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Split decision in gay couple’s lawsuit over use of photo in anti-gay mailer

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
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DENVER — A federal judge has dismissed part of a lawsuit filed by a gay New Jersey couple whose engagement photo was used in campaign attack mailers in Colorado.

Kristina Hill Photography Original engagement photo of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere.

Kristina Hill Photography
Original engagement photo of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere.

Altered image of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere used in anti-gay mailers.

Altered image of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere used in anti-gay mailers.

U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel agreed the photo’s use was noncommercial and a matter of legitimate public concern. However, he also ruled the couple and their photographer have a possible copyright infringement claim.

The lawsuit charges that Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States misappropriated the likeness and personalities of the couple, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere.

Public Advocate, an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), used the engagement photo without permission and digitally altered it to include anti-gay propaganda.

The mailers targeted two Republican Colorado legislative candidates. One mailer read, “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of ‘Family Values?’” Both candidates lost their primary races in 2012.

“This case is about the defilement of a beautiful moment by a group known for demonizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director. “This was just a cheap way for Public Advocate to avoid having to pay for a stock photo to use in their hateful anti-gay attack ad. It was nothing short of theft.”

The couple believes they were innocent bystanders whose image was stolen.

The SPLC filed the lawsuit on behave of the Edwards and Privitere, and photographer Kristina Hill.

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