GA court hears arguments in 'Girls Gone Wild' case
ATLANTA (AP) - A lawyer for a Georgia woman whose image was used in a "Girls Gone Wild" video argued before the Georgia Supreme Court Monday that the video's producers misappropriated his client's image for commercial purposes.
Lindsey Bullard was 14 when she exposed her breasts during spring break in Florida to a man with a video camera who later sold the clip for use in a "Girls Gone Wild" video. Bullard sued, seeking damages in 2004 after her image was used on a video cover and in television and online advertisements. She claims she was bullied by teachers and fellow students and suffered great mental anguish.
A lawyer for the companies that produced the videos argued that the videos are an expressive work of entertainment entitled to First Amendment protection and that Bullard's image had no commercial value.
A federal judge in Atlanta wrote in an opinion in August that "very scant Georgia law on this subject provides no clear answer as to whether (Bullard) has a viable claim." The judge asked Georgia's high court to clarify several questions, including whether Bullard must show that her image had commercial value prior to its use by the video producers and whether her consent to being videotaped is made invalid by the fact that she was a minor.
Bullard, who's now 26, went to Panama City, Fla., for spring break in April 2000. While walking with two other girls, she was approached by two men with a video camera who asked the girls to show their breasts. Bullard flashed her chest and was rewarded with a string of plastic beads.
The men later sold the video to MRA Holding, Inc., and Mantra Films, Inc., which included it in a video titled "Girls Gone Wild, College Girls Exposed." An image of Bullard pulled from the video was put on the cover of the tape, with a banner over her breasts that said, "Get Educated!"
Jeff Banks, Bullard's lawyer, argued that rather than just putting an image from the video on the cover, the producers also pasted the banner over Bullard's chest, which he said makes it appear as if she's endorsing the video. He also argued that the producers clearly believed Bullard's image had commercial value because they picked it from among many others.
Scott Carr, a lawyer for the video producers said that being on the cover of the video doesn't imply endorsement of the product. He also argued that Georgia law says that misappropriation of an image for commercial purposes means that the image is being used to promote something unrelated, whereas in this case the image on the cover accurately reflects what's in the video.
Because of her young age at the time, Bullard couldn't possibly have imagined that her image would be sold and used in advertisements, and even if she consented to let herself be taped, that permission didn't extend to someone using it to advertise across the country, Banks said.
There's no statute that says a minor can't consent and Bullard gave her implicit consent by allowing herself to be taped, Carr argued. But he did concede upon questioning by Justice David Nahmias that if Bullard had signed a written consent form that could be invalidated because she was a minor.