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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 accusations:

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.

Spiegel’s defense:

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.

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