After her 2010 DUI arrest, Megan Simmons had her mug shot taken like millions of others have. Unlike others, however, Megan looked very attractive in the shot, which was quickly spread across the Internet and turned into dozens of meme images. Her mug shot was paired with text such as, “Arrested for Breaking and Entering. Your Heart” or “I want her Cell number.” In an interview with WTSP-TV in Tampa, Megan even said that it was flattering at first; however, she is now taking legal action against InstantCheckmate for using her mug shot.
InstantCheckmate.com is a background check company, which readers of PMI have likely heard of due to its major affiliate program. The company made advertisements which had the image of her mug shot combined with text saying, “Sometimes, the cute ones aren’t so innocent. Do a background check on anyone.”
Megan Simmons is now suing the company for using her image for commercial purposes without her consent and causing her to feel “humiliated and embarrassed” and also to suffer “mental pain and anguish.”
Matthew Crist, who is representing Simmons, said “The only issue really involved in our case is the narrow use of her mug shot to promote this particular product in a way without her consent.” In another interview he said, “At the end of the day, this is actually about intellectual property. If someone is going to use your image, they need to pay you for it.” He also indicated that the website is using this image for financial gain, which is much different than the memes that have been made with the picture.
This is just the latest in a growing number of examples of brands using people’s images in marketing, without their consent. There is no doubt that the mug shot of Megan is now a very public image, but the question is whether or not that gives a company the ability to use the image without consent and/or compensation. PMI is reaching out to the attorney for further comment, but at this time it seems that we’ll have to wait to see what the courts say about this case.
In this particular case, it seems very likely that Megan would have been willing to allow InstantCheckmate.com to use the image if they had compensated her, especially given the fact that she seems to want to capitalize on her ‘celebrity’ status. In an interview with the Huffington Post she went as far as to say, “If [Hugh Hefner] himself contacted me, I think that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse.” Obviously indicating that she would be willing to pose for Playboy if they made an offer. She also posted some of the memes on her own Facebook page, which may become significant if the lawsuit continues in court.
For now, we’ll all just have to keep an eye on the case, and see what comes of it.