A Model Lawsuit

By: Michael Seinberg

What does your average model do when a picture of her appears all over the world? Celebrate? Get more work from the exposure? Well, if you’re 30-year-old Caroline Giles, you file suit for $23 million.

Giles, who just graduated from Columbia University at age 30 with a bachelors in psychology, has sued the Ford Model Agency, Volvo, and Hertz for $23 million because she claims that a photo of her has been used and reused without her consent. In one instance, the photo was used in a Volvo sponsored campaign in Australia that invited people to “Spend the night with a Swedish model of your choice!” This clever play on words was referring to the Swedish made Volvo, not the female in the ad.

Ms. Giles disagrees. Her lawsuit states that the ad was done “to make it appear that she may be an escort with extreme sexual and inappropriate connotations and innuendos.” Hmm, that’s certainly nothing that ever happens in ads. Volvo defended the use of the photo saying that the models were cars, not escorts and that Giles signed a release granting rights for unlimited print and Internet placements worldwide for an unlimited time. Even Giles says, “I was paid $2,000 unlimited usage for Volvo for their S40 model.” So which part of unlimited is in question here?

Giles, who has been modeling since age 18, should probably know better. “The product is Volvo S40,” Giles said. “I didn’t say that Volvo could use my image for anything Volvo for the rest of my life…Even if I end up with nothing, I would just be happy if the industry standard changed and people started doing what they’re supposed to do.”

The bottom line is that while a person should be compensated for the use of their likeness, said person should also be careful what they sign. And for a modeling veteran and fresh college grad to suddenly decide that a single photo that was shot in 2007 should be worth $23 million begs any number of questions about the motives behind such a suit. Ms. Giles suggests her motives are pure and only meant to reform an abusive system. That being the case, then why ask for $23 million?

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