The Bikini photos controversy and SnapChat
Two sisters have filed a lawsuit against popular messaging app Snapchat’s founder Evan Spiegel,
arguing that it has tarnished their reputation. The two Turner sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth Turner
have claimed that they had been misled by Spiegel.
The Turner story:
In 2011, Elizabeth Turner, then 18 and studying at Duke University, was approached by Stanford
university student Spiegel and had agreed to do a photo shoot. She was a professional model
living at LA, the place where Spiegel resides. She had agreed on the terms that her sister Sarah,
then 19, too would accompany and pose with her for the shoot. The sisters ended up coming
to a photo shoot on the Santa Monica Pier and other nearby locations. The release form had
been signed by the sisters several days after the shoot. The sisters have claimed that they had
permitted Spiegel to use the photographs to promote an app called “Picaboo”. It was only a favor
that the girls did on Spiegel to promote the app which he claimed to be a “school project” and
they did not receive any kind of financial compensation. Picaboo was Snapchat’s predecessor
company that had the same feature of photos disappearing after a certain time. The release
form said that the images could be used “exclusively for the purpose of promoting the Picaboo
application for iPhone.”
The “Picaboo” mishap:
Picaboo soon turned to the now hugely popular Snapchat mobile app and proliferated globally,
with around 70 million monthly active users in April. The lawsuit claims that the photos were
later used even for Android and website marketing and not just iPhone without the consent
of the consent of the sisters who were never asked if their pictures could be used for broader
promotion. The sisters thus became a face of Snapchat.
The sisters have filed a complaint for violation of statutory rights of publicity and violation of
common law rights of publicity under California Law. They have claimed that the photos were
manipulated to make it look like one of them was naked. They photos have been presented
in a highly sexualized manner. They have also claimed that Snapchat, due to its feature of
disappearing photos has become a popular sexting app and has a “tawdry reputation”. Since
their photos were used for publicizing the app, their reputation has been damaged. In fact they
have said that their photos appear in the most prominent locations when one searches Google
Images with keywords like “Snapchat Sluts”. They have added that the defendant’s actions were
“malicious and oppressive” which entitles them for punitive damage.
The SnapChat founders have reported that the Turners sisters had already given up their right to
photos immediately after the shoot and thus do not possess any right to financial remuneration.
However, controversies like this are only fuelling the controversies regarding the notorious
reputation of SnapChat and hence the app has now taken to creating platforms through which
news and articles and mature contents could be shared among users.