On Tuesday, an individual filed a class-action complaint in the Western District of Washington against social media company PeopleConnect, Inc., which runs Classmates.com, a website designed to connect people with their former classmates and colleagues, for misappropriating the plaintiff and putative class’s photographs in advertisements.
According to the complaint, the defendant is accused of “willfully misappropriating the photographs, likenesses, images, and names of Plaintiff and the class; willfully using those photographs, likenesses, images, and names for the commercial purpose of selling access to them in Classmates products and services; and willfully using those photographs, likenesses, images, and names to advertise, sell, and solicit purchases of Classmates services and products; without obtaining prior consent from Plaintiff and the class.”
The plaintiff claimed that Classmates’ business model “relies on extracting personal information from school yearbooks, including names, photographs, schools attended, and other biographical information.” Classmates then purportedly aggregates this information and uses it to identify individuals, which it stores in its database. The plaintiff noted that Classmates provides free access to some of this information to the general public “to drive users to purchase its two paid products” – reprinted yearbooks, and a monthly subscription – and to “get page views from non-paying users, from which Classmates profits by selling ad space on its website.” This alleged preview available to the public-at-large provides a limited preview of the service by providing a list of results for a particular school. The plaintiff averred that “Classmates’ free preview provides enough information to identify an individual,” while allegedly attempting to entice a user to subscribe or pay for a yearbook.
The plaintiff asserted that when a user clicks on “Upgrade Your Membership,” they are “given an offer to sign up for Classmates’ monthly subscription service whereby a user is able to ‘keep in touch’ with other classmates.” Consequently, the plaintiff contended that Classmates “uses the identities of Plaintiff and the putative class to market its completely unrelated subscription services” in violation of various laws, such as Ohio’s Right of Publicity law, which states that “a person shall not use any aspect of an individual’s persona for a commercial purpose.”
The plaintiff also reiterated that she and the putative class did not give Classmates consent to use their identities or likeness in its advertisements. The plaintiff added that she “is not and has never been a Classmates customer. She has no relationship with Classmates whatsoever.” The plaintiff stated that “(a)s the subject of a commercial transaction, Plaintiff’s personal identifiable information disclosed by Classmates has commercial value. These aspects of Plaintiff’s identity are valuable to online advertisers among others.” Moreover, the plaintiff claimed that she “has not been compensated by Classmates in any way for its use of her identity.”
The putative class consists of: “all Ohio residents who have appeared in an advertisement preview for a Classmates product.”
The count against the defendant is a violation of Ohio’s Right of Publicity. The plaintiff seeks class certification and for the plaintiff and her counsel to represent the class, declaratory relief, an award for damages, restitution, an injunction, prejudgment interest, and an award for costs and fees.
This lawsuit is similar to a case against Ancestry.com for misappropriating people’s photographs for advertising and promotional purposes, which has since been dismissed.