Federal judge allows suit over right of publicity to photos on Mugshots.com

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A federal judge in Chicago has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that contends the Mugshots.com website deliberately fails to update or correct outdated records to create incentives for arrestees to pay to get their photos removed through an affiliated website.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman allowed claims that the websites violated arrestees’ right of publicity because their mugshots are used as clickbait that attracts consumers and drives revenue for the removal service. Ars Technica and Courthouse News Service have stories on her Sept. 26 decision.

“It is not advertising use in the traditional sense,” Coleman wrote, “but Mugshots.com promotes itself with plaintiffs’ likenesses (and others), by using the embarrassing nature of an arrest to promote the website, draw consumers, and if it is their photo or likeness, provide an easy link to removal for a fee.”

Mugshots.com asserted it had a First Amendment right to post the records because they are a matter of public concern. But Coleman said the websites were commercial in nature and they weren’t entitled to complete protection of the First Amendment as a matter of law.

Coleman also allowed a claim under an Illinois law that bars anyone disseminating criminal record information in print or online to accept a fee to remove or correct the information. And she allowed a claim that the websites violated Florida’s unfair trade practices law. She dismissed several other claims, including that the operation amounted to a RICO violation.

Two plaintiffs are former Illinois inmates and a third is a Florida resident who says he was wrongly arrested because police mistook him for a person with the same name.

One of the former Illinois inmates says he lost a job and job offers because of his Mugshots.com profile, which wasn’t updated to show he had completed his sentence. When he called Unpublisharrest.com he was told he could remove his two mugshots for $2,000 plus a representation fee, while removal of the entire profile would be $15,000 plus a representation fee.




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