Last month Vanity Fair had a web exclusive on a fascinating story over a disputed model release. The ultra-hip band Vampire Weekend, who perform their concerts in Ivy League-style getups, seemed to have stumbled upon the perfect image for their new album Contra. Months before the debut on January 12th this year, a photograph of the ultimate prepster: blond hair, blue eyes, popped collar, made its way around the internet linking to a site called, I Think Ur a Contra. When the album finally dropped the picture was the cover and became an integral part of the bands website and tour.
How they acquired the Polaroid is where this story gets fascinating. According to the band they bought it off New York photographer and filmmaker Tod Brody for $5000. He says that he took the photo in the summer of 1983 during a casting session for a television commercial. But, Vanity Fair has an interview with the model, Ann Kirsten Kennis, who alleges that the photograph was instead taken by her mother and somehow picked up by Brody. According to VF she has a similar looking Polaroid of she and her sister framed in her house. Ann, apparently tired of seeing her picture plastered all over the place filed a $2 million misappropriation-of-image lawsuit in LA against Vampire Weekend, Tod Brody, and the band’s London-based label, XL Recordings.
But, here’s where it gets real interesting. According the Vanity Fair:
“If the Contra case does go to trial, the outcome could hinge on a key document: a model release form that appears to be dated July 30, 2009. (The date is crossed out and re-written.) The form is from Vampire Weekend Inc. to someone named “Kirsten Johnsen” (spelled “Johnson” elsewhere on the form), who signed her permission for the band to use her image for a fee of $1. The form contains no mention of Brody, but it does include an address named in the suit as Brody’s residence. No release form from the 1980s has yet been presented in court.”
To me this is a clear example of a photographer providing a model release where one didn’t exist and having it blow up in his face. $5000 bucks in the pocket from an old casting picture that nobody will notice… To make matters worse, there is an entire website dedicated to uncovering Tod Brody as a fraud: http://www.todbrodyfraudblog.com. This is not looking good for Tod. My guess is that this thing will be settled out of court and we will never know what really went down. What’s interesting to me this idea that companies are somehow responsible to fact check a release that’s given to them. I’m sure there’s some legal precedent that could be established if this goes to trial or maybe it already exists. Either way it’s a fascinating story to read.