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U.K. Teen Sues DVD Distributor For Use of Her Image

U.K. Teen Sues DVD Distributor For Use of Her Image
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Aug 1, 2007 5:30 PM PDT    Text size: 
TAMPA, Fla. — In a case that could serve as a cautionary tale for adult companies that contract out artwork to third parties, a British teenager has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa against TVX Films, alleging that without authorization the company used her self-portrait as box cover and DVD face art for a new edition of the 1982 adult film “Body Magic.”

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, U.K. resident Lara Jade Coton accuses Texas-based TVX Films and its president Bob Burge of copyright infringement, civil conspiracy, misappropriation of her image, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit also names other online retailers in direct and contributory copyright infringement claims.

Coton, now 18, reportedly shot the self-portrait in question when she was 14 years old. According to the lawsuit, the image “has never been licensed, approved or authorized by Lara Jade for use in any manner whatsoever by these defendants, and certainly not for use in conjunction with the manufacture, distribution, sale or marketing of pornographic videos.”

In either late 2006 or early 2007, Coton reportedly received an anonymous tip telling her that her self-portrait was being used as the cover photo for “Body Magic.” On Jan. 29 of this year, Coton contacted Burge via email to notify him of the unauthorized use of her image.

“I am absolutely disgusted that you’ve used my artwork for such a subject,” Coton wrote in the email, according to court documents. “I was 14 at the time the picture was taken and I had no clue until today that you were using it in such a way.”

According to the lawsuit, Burge was less than contrite about the use of Coton’s image, and “took the opportunity to gratuitously ridicule Lara Jade,” stating in his email reply that “To date their [sic] have only been a couple hundred DVDs sold throughout the world so the picture is of little importance so I’ll be glad to have them change the art.”

Several days after first contacting Burge, Coton again emailed him to request the name and contact information of the company that had allegedly provided TVX with the unauthorized image. Later the same day, Coton emailed Burge and requested compensation for use of her image.

According to court documents, Burge rebuffed Coton’s request, stating, “Not only will you not be compenStated [sic] for your photo we have turned this problem over to our attorney.”

Burge asserted in his response that the company the image was obtained from “is a public domain operation.”

“You knew this when you originally sent us your scheming letter,” Burge wrote, according to the lawsuit. “Nice try toots. We are still going to remove you from the art, not because of your claim but let’s face it your picture means very little to the film.”

In another email, written in all capital letters, Burge allegedly taunted Coton further, and stated that “removing your image will help improve the sell [sic] of the DVD so far it bombed.”

Coton’s attorney, Richard A. Harrison of the Tampa-based law firm Allen Dell, told XBIZ that he was “upset by what [TVX] did with my client’s picture, and even more upset by the way they have treated her since being notified of the problem.”

“It’s difficult to understand,” Harrison said of Burge’s response to being contacted by Coton. “The response should have been to remove the image immediately and to apologize profusely. He could have apologized and offered her a few hundred bucks to make up for it six months ago, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

In a phone interview with XBIZ Wednesday, Burge defended his actions and the way in which he responded to Coton’s messages, and said that Coton and her attorney are not telling the whole story.

“We’re telling the truth about what happened here,” Burge told XBIZ. “To this day, we can’t tell who this girl is, how old she is. I don’t think this attorney [Harrison] has even met her.”

Burge said that the messages from him that are contained in the lawsuit have been edited to suit the purposes of Coton’s claim, and that the plaintiff has not accurately represented his response to being notified about the box cover problem.

“You think I’m happy about this — happy about being told that a 14-year-old ended up on one of our boxes?” Burge said. “Of course I’m upset about this.”

Burge said that he did offer Coton $300 as compensation, which he deemed more than sufficient for a single image.

Burge also said, however, that he doesn’t think Coton’s claims are legitimate, and he remains very skeptical concerning her motivations and honesty. Among other claims, Burge asserted to XBIZ that his company has been contacted by six different people in connection with the case claiming to be attorneys, and among those, only Harrison was a legitimate attorney.

“Something smells in River City,” Burge told XBIZ.

Harrison dismissed Burge’s assertions, and said that he thought Burge has not yet realized what a bad position he is in, legally speaking.

“He doesn’t understand that he has no chance to win here,” Harrison told XBIZ.

Harrison said that while he has not spoken to Burge, he has exchanged email with the TVX owner, and Burge has opined in those communications as well that he doesn’t believe that Coton is a real person, and that the lawsuit threats that led up to Tuesday’s filing were part of a scam to bilk his company out of money.

“I suppose I can see thinking that when all you have is email from someone who says they are a teenage girl in another country,” Harrison said. “But once you are contacted by a real attorney with some real facts in hand, you need to pay attention.”

Harrison added that Burge’s denial borders on the delusional.

“This is like talking to someone who doesn’t think we landed on the moon,” Harrison said. “I’m more than happy to confess that I don’t understand the response.”

Burge countered that “everything I’ve told you here can be proven,” and asserted that he was “very nice to [Coton] when she first contacted us.”

“She doesn’t mention [in the lawsuit] that we asked to speak to her parents,” Burge said. “To this day, I have never heard from her parents. If this happened to your daughter, wouldn’t you want to call? Sure as hell you would.”

Harrison said that while adult content itself is objectionable to many people, “this case is not about porn.”

“At a time when the [adult] industry is clearly becoming more and more mainstream, and everybody is trying to do what they can do run their businesses honestly and do the right thing, someone like this comes along and gives the industry a black eye,” Harrison said. “He’ll get more press in a week for this than others [in the industry] do all year.”

Burge said that while he has not been served with the lawsuit, his company is working on finding an attorney in Florida to handle the case.

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