February 02, 2005

Former Actor Awarded Millions for Use of his Photo

A man who suddenly noticed after 18 years that a photo taken of him is on an instant coffee label has sued Nestle USA and won millions of dollars.

Detritus.net condemns such an outrageous award. One thing the article does not explain is what sort of contract, if any, the man signed when the photos were shot in 1986. But in any case, 15.6 million is completely unrealistic. He obviously was not damaged in any way by the unpermitted and unknown use of his visage, and the benefit he would have received had proper permission been sought is nowhere near that amount. We support the proper compensation of all workers in all lines of work, but this goes far beyond what anyone deserves.

UPDATE (feb 10, 2005): In reference to the comment below - El Sato rightly makes the point that corporations need to be deterred for transgressions, but he errs in thinking that an "anti-corporate screed" is something we would object to here at Detritus.net. If he had bothered to research the history of this site and its politics, he would understand otherwise. In fact, his screed does not go far enough, in my opinion. He admits that even 15 million is not enough to really punish a company like Nestle. What then, is enough? Revocation of their corporate charter after a small number of such violations (3 strikes and you're out!). Even better, we call for total destruction of all corporations everywhere, immediately.

Lacking such an ideal world, perhaps the actor should have received about half a mil, and the rest should have gone to worthy causes, like tsunami relief, health care for the poor, or AIDS research, or even to Creative Commons or a similiar organization that works for justice in the intellectual property field. It's true that fair is fair. But it is unfair, obscene, for one guy to suddenly be a multimillionaire because he spent a half an hour decades ago in front of a camera. Millions are starving to death, being tortured, dying of diseases, getting blown up by U.S. ordinance, around the world and this dumbass prettyboy deserves 15 million? Fuck you if you believe that.

Posted by steev at February 2, 2005 04:27 PM

And what your analysis does not explain is that making such an award doesn't just take into account the harm done to the guy who's face was used, but how much of a penalty will prevent Nestle and corporations like it from doing something similar in the future.

Damage awards are not just about compensating someone, but about deterring others from committing the same wrongful act as was committed in the case at hand. For a company as large and profitable as Nestle, making them pay the going rate for this guy's face is going to mean nothing at all and next time an image comes along they want to use they will just use it, with or without permission.

Similarly, other companies of that operate on the same scale will see that Nestle has only been made to pay, say, $500,000 and figure what the hell, I don't bother to get permission and I pay nothing now and if worse comes to worst later I'll pay half a million -- it's worth the risk. Even 15 million is not a huge amount for a company that large (remember, we are talking about a GLOBAL company, not just what they profit from in America).

Ultimately you are not just paying this guy for his face, you are making sure a lot of other people don't get ripped off the same way down the road.

Don't take all this is an anti-corporate screed -- it's just that everyone should have to play fair and if you've got a lot of money then you have to be made to pay a lot of money for your wrongdoing or you won't notice. That goes for individuals as well as corporations.

Anyway, I applaud you for venturing into this area, but you might want to research the principles involved more next time before taking such a strong position.

Posted by: El Sato at February 10, 2005 04:24 PM