Suing Girls Gone Wild Over a Bare-Breasted Video

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Nov. 15 2012 6:42 PM

Suing Girls Gone Wild

Should a girl who bared her breasts at 14 win her lawsuit against the video company?

Founder and CEO of Girls Gone Wild Joe Francis arrives at the Girls Gone Wild Magazine.
Founder and CEO of Girls Gone Wild Joe Francis

Photograph by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Back in middle school, a dozen years ago, Lindsey Boyd made a stupid decision. Then 14, she was walking down “The Strip” in Panama City, Fla., when two men asked her to expose her breasts while they videotaped her. Boyd did as they suggested. The clip ended up in the hands of the producers of Girls Gone Wild—the video series of late-night Tele-commercial infamy, known for depicting young women in various states of undress, and sometimes engaging in sex acts. The producers put Boyd’s image on the cover of a video and used it in commercials.

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Needless to say, Girls Gone Wild has seen its share of lawsuits from the girls and women it has taped since its start in 1997. Boyd—now Lindsey Bullard, a 26-year-old hairstylist and mother—brought a barrage of claims in federal court against the producers. Bullard claimed that she never agreed to have her semi-nude image in a Girls Gone Wild video, let alone on the cover or in a nationally televised ad. Bullard said the video humiliated her in high school, where she was singled out by administrators and dubbed a “porn star” by peers, and that this means she should get damages. Federal Judge Julie Carnes was sympathetic.* “Fourteen-year-old middle schoolers sometimes do stupid things, with little thought for future consequences,” she wrote in August. But Bullard failed to present a claim for which the federal court could provide relief, Carnes ruled. Bullard made a series of allegations against the Girls Gone Wild producers, but her lawyers didn’t say how they violated any duty or law. She claimed her image was misappropriated for commercial use, but, as far as Carnes could tell, Georgia, unlike other states, doesn't have a civil remedy for that. The judge made it clear she wasn’t entirely happy about this outcome, writing that it is “not at all clear that the law had caught up with this kind of vulgar exploitation of young girls.” She sent the case to the Georgia Supreme Court, to see if it could provide some clarity, and perhaps some relief.

In the beginning of November, Georgia’s highest court heard arguments in Bullard’s case. Specifically, the court asked whether the use of Bullard’s image by the production companies constituted, under state law, an invasion of privacy or a “misappropriation of a likeness for commercial use.” Bullard continues to argue that she didn’t consent, and also that at 14, she couldn’t give legal consent anyway. The producers say that she bared her breasts voluntarily and in public, and, essentially, that she’s responsible for her own stupid decision, even if she made it in middle school.

States like Florida have passed laws that explicitly ban the commercial use of an individual’s photograph without his or her consent, or the use of an image in a way that represents endorsement of a product the subject does not, in fact, endorse. In Georgia, however, no such rules are on the books. And that may mean Bullard is out of luck.

Correction, Nov. 16, 2012: This article originally misidentified Judge Julie Carnes as Judie Carnes. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Ryan McCartney is a student at Yale Law School.

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