These days, your online reputation is of paramount importance. HR departments use the Internet to research prospective employees and a preliminary Google search is nearly de rigueur when dating. Unfortunately for thousands across the country, when their name is searched, a mugshot website pops up.
Now you may be thinking: “well, if someone is guilty of a crime, it’s good to know!” But here’s the rub: many of the people pictured on these sites were either found “not guilty” or the charges were dismissed against them. Adding insult to injury, many mugshot websites refuse to take down the photographs unless the mug shot-e pays a removal fee, even in cases where the person pictured was found innocent of the charges.
Sounds a bit like extortion, right? Well, that’s exactly what an attorney in Ohio is arguing. Attorney Scott Ciolek is putting together a class-action lawsuit against several commercial mugshot sites. Ciolek estimates that nearly 300,000 people in Ohio alone have been negatively affected by mug-shot sites. His current lawsuit is against 5 commercial websites.
One of the named plaintiffs in the mugshot class action is Phillip Kaplan. A freelance designer and copywriter, Kaplan once had a mugshot taken after being booked for “failure to disperse.” Those charges, however, were later dropped, yet the picture still emerges when you pump his name into a search engine. Kaplan believes he’s lost a lot of work as a result of the ostensibly incriminating picture. “I don’t get a lot of callbacks,” he explained. “One of the first things people do is type a name into Google. I think it’s affected my opportunities at more gainful employment. It affects a lot of peoples’ chances at employment.”
Under Ohio law, a commercial entity cannot use another’s persona for financial gain without consent. The exceptions being: newsworthiness, public affairs matters and sports broadcasts. Otherwise, in the Buckeye state, as Ciolek and Kaplan rightly point out, “you can’t sell someone’s likeness back to them.”
Twenty-eight states in the U.S. have personality rights laws on the books. If you find yourself in a position similar to Phillip Kaplan, and you’re ready to take action, contact the Kelly / Warner Law firm. An AV-rated legal practice, Kelly / Warner has considerable experience litigating both defamation and personality rights torts.