UGA student sues over Facebook bikini photo

Monday, July 8, 2013 7:14 AM
Last updated 7:02 PM
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ATHENS, Ga. -- A University of Georgia student recently filed a $2 million lawsuit against an official at her former high school and the Fayette County School District for using a photograph of her in a bikini without her permission.

  Morris News Service
Morris News Service


The lawsuit alleges the photo was stolen from 19-year-old Chelsea Chaney’s Facebook page for use in an Internet safety seminar.

The now-UGA freshman had posted the photo taken during a family vacation in a semi-private forum of her Facebook page, where only “friends” and “friends of friends” had access to it.

The student’s attorney, Pete Wellborn, said the lawsuit is significant for the protection of people’s privacy.

“It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Chelsea to forget this ever happened, repress the memory and just move forward,” he said.

If she had done that, Wellborn said, she would have left the door open for a similar situation to happen to another young person.

The dollar amount sought in compensation for damages was to send a message, according to Wellborn.

“We came up with that amount to get their attention, but ultimately the amount will be left to a jury, and they might decide on $5 million or $500,000,” Wellborn said. “We wanted to make sure the requested relief was substantial enough to ensure that neither they nor any other school personnel ever do this to another young person.”

The legal action stems from when Chaney was a 17-year-old senior at Starr’s Mill High School in Fayetteville in October 2011 when it hosted a countywide “Community Awareness Seminar.”

A portion of the seminar concerning Internet safety was presented by the school district’s director of technology services. According to the lawsuit, the director visited various students’ Facebook pages looking for examples of how postings might lead to future embarrassments.

In a portion of Curtis Cearley’s presentation entitled “Social Networking,” he displayed a slide titled “Once it’s there it’s there to stay” that included a photo of a bikini-clad Chaney standing next to a life-size cutout of rap star Snoop Lion, then known as Snoop Dogg.

“Even more incredibly, the slide included Chelsea’s full name, which was clearly visible to all attendees at the seminar,” the lawsuit states.

“In short, to illustrate the manner in which Internet postings can later shame and disgrace the poster, Cearley stole Chelsea’s photograph and presented it out of context to intentionally shame and disgrace Chelsea by name in front of hundreds of her teachers, her peers, their parents and other Fayette County residents,” the lawsuit alleges.

The school administrator achieved his goal of illustrating Internet dangers, but broke the law in doing so, according to the lawsuit.

Chaney’s constitutional right to privacy was violated, the lawsuit alleges, and she also was slandered, libeled and victimized by theft.

The impact on the teen was immediate, according to the lawsuit, as students and even teachers fell into two distinct camps in the days following the seminar: One supported Chaney and condemned the invasion of her privacy, and the other “apparently believed that Chelsea ‘got what was coming to her.’ ”

The unauthorized use of Chaney’s photo not only caused the student emotional duress; it was illegal, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Cearley’s actions violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and the school district’s own policies governing Internet usage, privacy and other areas.

The school district is liable for Cearley’s actions because administrators had prior knowledge of the content of his seminar presentation and did nothing to stop him, the lawsuit alleges.

Chaney and her family contacted an attorney only after school officials refused a request to hold a brief assembly to address the issue of respecting people’s privacy, Wellborn said.

“If they had held that assembly, I never would have been called” to represent Chaney, he said.

The initial lawsuit wasn’t filed until May because Wellborn said he needed to conduct a lot of legal research prior to filing the action, but also he wanted to wait until after Chaney graduated from high school.

Comments (24) Add comment
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Riverrunner30909
149
Points
Riverrunner30909 07/08/13 - 06:21 am
0
1
Photo
Unpublished

If you are that stupid you should be shot. If you flaunt it for someone else to take your picture in the public and that darn sure looks like a very public place you are free game for anyone to take your pict and you are open game. If you do not want it floating in cyber space act like an adult rather than some snot nosed idiot.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 07/08/13 - 06:42 am
8
7
Goose Gander

If it was illegal for the school to post Chaney's photo without her permission, then it must have been illegal for Chaney to post Snoop Dog's photo without his permission.

WalterBradfordCannon
1500
Points
WalterBradfordCannon 07/08/13 - 07:13 am
11
1
Snoop Dog's photo was

Snoop Dog's photo was commercially used in a public place. Taking photos of it for noncommercial purposes is fine. When something is posted on Facebook, the photographer retains copyrights, and Facebook also gets non-exclusive copyrights to the picture. In other words, if Facebook had held that privacy seminar, using the photo would have been fine. Curtis Cearley may have had access to see the photo, but re-use of it in a that context would have required the privacy settings to have been "public", or Cearley would have had to get consent first. The amount on the lawsuit is absurd, but I would not be surprised if the school settles for a significant amount. You cannot poach someone's pictures from Facebook and use them for your own purposes. Only Facebook can do that!

scoobynews
3896
Points
scoobynews 07/08/13 - 07:15 am
8
2
If her profile and pictures

If her profile and pictures were "private" how on earth did he manage to access the picture? It was either not marked private or someone who was a "friend" got the picture for him.

corgimom
38720
Points
corgimom 07/08/13 - 07:15 am
7
4
Yeah, friends of friends. She

Yeah, friends of friends. She has no case.

my.voice
5180
Points
my.voice 07/08/13 - 07:47 am
11
0
Young people seem to think

Young people seem to think that they post in anonymity. Everything you post can end up on the web forever. Photos can be especially damning.

Marinerman1
5499
Points
Marinerman1 07/08/13 - 08:32 am
9
2
The Speed Bump Got Me

I was going down the lawsuit road just fine until I read, "Cearley stole Chelsea’s photograph and presented it out of context to intentionally shame and disgrace Chelsea by name in front of hundreds of her teachers, her peers, their parents and other Fayette County residents". The speed bump were the words, "intentionally shame and disgrace Chelsea ". Really the word INTENTIONALLY is what tripped me up. I do not believe that there was ever any true intent to shame and disgrace. And the dollar figure is out in space somewhere. It will never see the light of day in court.

seenitB4
98525
Points
seenitB4 07/08/13 - 09:03 am
9
0
hahah

You will never see my bikini photo on fb...I'm not crazy...yeh I know some think they are safe......it will never be 100% safe...you are dreaming my friends.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 07/08/13 - 09:46 am
5
1
Strategy

Perhaps this lawsuit is a good strategy for Miss Chaney. This way, every time she gets turned down when applying for a job, she can claim it was because the prospective employers are Neanderthals and closed minded over the Facebook photos. They should have been effectively neutralized by the lawsuit.

Darby
29473
Points
Darby 07/08/13 - 10:23 am
10
1
Chelsea should be giving Clearley a big

"Attaboy" for the great public service he's doing.

If she wanted to demonstrate real class, she'd volunteer to speak at his next seminar and endorse his efforts.

Instead, she'll probably opt be at some UGA kegger posing for more FaceBook photos.

Just think of all the heartbreak she could prevent for teen and preteen girls by supporting the effort to educate, not litigate.

Red Headed Step Child
4496
Points
Red Headed Step Child 07/08/13 - 10:25 am
11
0
The dollar amount meant to send a message

Yep - got the message. You're an idiot. You can ask for it, but as others have posted, getting it's another thing. Thinking that ANYTHING posted on a website could ever be considered private is a hoot.

itsanotherday1
48409
Points
itsanotherday1 07/08/13 - 10:23 am
12
0
Golddigging

Plain and simple. If her bikininess was an issue, she never would have put it on FB. For that matter, if that exposure bothered her, she wouldn't even put one on; correct? Is she shamed when men ogle her at the lake or beach?

specsta
7181
Points
specsta 07/08/13 - 10:24 am
9
1
Nothing To See Here

Ridiculous lawsuit.

People steal photos all the time on the internet. Unless that photo was registered with the Copyright Office, there is little that can be done to recoup statutory damages from copyright infringement. And the maximum for those damages when registered is $150,000 per image. Apart from a copyright violation, there is no case here. And since Chelsea did not take the photo herself, she doesn't own the copyright.

A person might as well assume that anything posted online is going to be copied. Now if Starr's Mill High School had used the photo for advertising purposes, that would be a different story but the photo was used in a teaching context. No money was derived from its use. There was no violation of privacy. There was no slander, libel or victimization.

The context of the photo being posted on Facebook by Chelsea for others to see, not in a privately accessed album, moots the whole accusation of her privacy being violated.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 07/08/13 - 10:32 am
7
1
Publish

RHSC has it correct. Uploading information to the internet is called electronic publishing. To publish something is to make it public. You cannot invade someone's privacy by revealing what they have already made public.

fishman960
1504
Points
fishman960 07/08/13 - 10:48 am
5
0
Flashback

This article reminds me of a wager that Austin Rhodes had with a particular regular on here. Still not sure who won that one...

Just My Opinion
6296
Points
Just My Opinion 07/08/13 - 11:34 am
10
0
Sorry....don't see no Snoop

Sorry....don't see no Snoop nuthin! I've looked at that picture several times...all I see is Chelsea.

myfather15
57307
Points
myfather15 07/08/13 - 11:52 am
6
2
She has a big smile on her

She has a big smile on her face and appears to be very proud of herself. Then SHE posts her photo onto the internet, again appearing to be very proud of herself!!

Then we are suppose to believe she is experiencing "emotional duress"? Not for posting on facebook, but she needs her picture posted in every mensroom in America for filing this lawsuit!!!! PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!! I'm so sick of people blaming others for their bad decisions; but the truth is it's all about the MONEY!!

This young lady is an idiot gold digger, with nothing but dollar signs in here eyes!! Do it the old fashioned way girl; find you an 85 year old millionaire and seduce him!!

Dixieman
17584
Points
Dixieman 07/08/13 - 01:04 pm
11
1
Tell you what

I'm a flabby middle-aged (ok, old) guy but will be glad to don a bikini and a smile and have my photo used without my permission for $1.5 million.
Okay, $1 million.
All right, $49.95, but that's my final offer.

Dixieman
17584
Points
Dixieman 07/08/13 - 01:04 pm
6
1
This is just lawsuit abuse

Tell you what: I'm a flabby middle-aged (ok, old) guy but will be glad to don a red bikini and a smile and have my photo used without my permission for $1.5 million.
Okay, $1 million.
All right, $49.95, but that's my final offer.

AutumnLeaves
10368
Points
AutumnLeaves 07/08/13 - 03:33 pm
5
1
If they had a case, I doubt

If they had a case, I doubt the Augusta Chronicle would have posted the photo again. On the other hand, posting the photo again seems well, kind of, rude? I've got mixed feelings about this one. It even crossed my mind she just wants MORE attention. Looks like she's getting it.

Bodhisattva
7311
Points
Bodhisattva 07/08/13 - 03:37 pm
6
0
In case Ms. Chaney hasn't

In case Ms. Chaney hasn't noticed, due to her lawsuit, the picture she is supposedly so embarrassed about (which seems to have been taken in a quite public place) is now plastered across numerous newspapers. Does she wish to sue them as well?

gargoyle
21089
Points
gargoyle 07/08/13 - 06:04 pm
2
1
Why she will be paid

1: She was a known minor at the time
2: Curtis Cearley knew she was a minor
3: The picture was presented unflatteringly in company known to both without permission
4: Putting her name on the bottom of the image
5: What the district policy said about use of student images
The presenter used extremely poor judgment forgetting good manners, It ain't cool to peel pic's of people you know and use them for a bad example.

scoobynews
3896
Points
scoobynews 07/08/13 - 06:54 pm
7
0
I am starting to believe some

I am starting to believe some people just give a thumbs down because they are bored. So to counter I gave every comment a thumbs up lol

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 07/08/13 - 07:25 pm
0
0
Next she will reveal she is a male in a woman's body. LOL
Unpublished

Next she will reveal she is a male in a woman's body. LOL

myfather15
57307
Points
myfather15 07/08/13 - 08:32 pm
2
0
Wow, I believe a first for me on the AC!!!

I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of giving Specsta and Bodhisattva thumbs up on the same thread, but it happened on this one!! I quite certain that is a first for me on the AC!!! See, we can agree on some things.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 07/08/13 - 09:54 pm
2
0
Statute of Limitations

From the story:

The legal action stems from when Chaney was a 17-year-old senior at Starr’s Mill High School in Fayetteville in October 2011 when it hosted a countywide “Community Awareness Seminar.” A portion of the seminar concerning Internet safety was presented by the school district’s director of technology services. According to the lawsuit, the director visited various students’ Facebook pages looking for examples of how postings might lead to future embarrassments.

So the seminar actually took place in 2011 while Chaney was still a minor? . . . . . Why did it take so long for a trial lawyer to discover it and convince Chaney to file a contingency lawsuit? Shouldn't she have filed in a more timely manner if she was so embarrassed?

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 07/08/13 - 10:23 pm
1
0
Please clarify:

Morris News Service reporter Joe Johnson reported on July 8 @ 7:14 am:

The now-UGA freshman . . .

Okay: is she just now entering UGA after taking a year off after graduating from Starr's Mill High School? Or did she attend UGA for the 2012-2013 academic year and fail to earn enough credits to qualify to become a sophomore? Enquiring Minds Want To Know.

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