Carolyn Giles' 12-year modeling career has allowed her to "fulfill my lifelong dream of traveling around the world," she writes on her LinkedIn profile. But now, she says, it's turned into a nightmare. The 2012 Columbia University grad is suing Volvo, Hertz and the Ford Models agency for $23 million, reports the New York Daily News, for allegedly using her image dozens of times without her permission, including on a website that makes her appear like a Swedish escort.
Giles, 30, says she used the money from modeling towards her university tuition, and that Ford Models paid her a one-time use fee of $1,000 to promote Volvo's S40 model. But when an ex-boyfriend living in Argentina told her he thought he'd seen her photo in a Hertz ad, Giles used Google's reverse images to do some investigating.
She found that Hertz was indeed using her picture in ads, she told the Daily News, as was Volvo to advertise different car models in 30 countries. Her image even found its way into a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and onto a website called Fast Impressions, captioned "Rev Up Your Love Life," near a headline luring readers to, "Spend the night with a Swedish model of your choice!"
"It looks like something you'd see in the old yellow pages directories under escort services," Giles' attorney David Jaroslawicz told the Daily News. "It makes her look sleazy."
Ford Models and Hertz could not be immediately reached for comment. But a Volvo spokeswoman claimed that Giles signed a release that allowed her image to be used "in unlimited print and internet placements worldwide for an unlimited time."
Volvo further stated that Giles' image was not used in any Volvo ad in the U.S., and the website she takes particular issue with was simply using a play on words -- the "Swedish model" referred to cars, the spokeswoman said, not escorts.
"I can't take Julia Roberts' picture and advertise soap," Jaroslawicz said. "They started using her as if they owned her."
Giles isn't the only person to complain an image wound up in undesirable contexts. Fifteen-year-old Alison Chang wasn't too happy when a photo of her at a church-sponsored car wash ended up on a billboard in Australia, encouraging passerbys to dump their loser pen friends like Chang and get a cellphone.
A New York couple, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere, weren't pleased when their engagement photo was used by an anti-gay Virginia group in a campaign mailer. Nicola Kirkbride was a little startled when her face appeared on a children's sweater at British supermarket giant Tesco. And a mother was a little disturbed when she saw her child, photoshopped into a curious wizard's get-up, on Chinese Halloween costume packaging.
These cases usually involve the photo-sharing site Flickr, because many photographers set the licensing of their images in such a way that allows companies to use them. Giles, however, says the terms of her photo-shoot were clear, and it didn't include using her face to lure customers interested in "sexy Swedish models of all shapes and sizes."
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