Shades of the Coffee Guy

An Ohio woman recently discovered, upon signing up for a Yahoo! email account, that her picture had been used in the welcome message that Yahoo! sends to new e-mail account holders.

According to CNet, Shannon Stovall signed up for a Yahoo! mail account, opened her first email and was surprised to see a picture of herself touting a “Hooray! Your first email” headline. The Ohio woman had previously done work for modeling agencies and contends that her likeness has been used by Yahoo! without her permission. She is suing Yahoo! in the amount of $20 million for violating her right to privacy and right to publicity.

These allegations remind us of the gentleman who, upon walking down the coffee aisle at his grocery store, was surprised to spot his picture on a jar of Taster’s Choice. The verdict in that case was $15.6 million. Although we don’t know what happened post-trial, it’s very unlikely he has been paid that amount. But a verdict like that would certainly put him in a great negotiating position.

Both of these cases show the importance of securing a license to use an image prior to its use. Even if Yahoo! prevails in this case, they still could incur defense costs.