people still care about the contra girl?
  • THURSDAY, AUGUST 26, 2010

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Seriously, can't we just drop it at this point? Yesterday the news broke: Vanity Fair has a spread on Ann Kirsten Kennis, composed of her somewhat dated work from the eighties. Her face adorned countless advertisements, including everything from Tequila ads to beauty products to cigarettes, and even a romance novel.

These days, Kennis lives in a gated community in Fairfield, CT, with her husband and two children, which sounds to me like she doesn't really need the 2 million (it's the principle?). Plus now people (journos) are paying her to tell them stuff! Isn't that enough in our world of double rainbow bedroom intruders? There are worse things than being the face of a commercially successful record. You could be known for this.

BUT IS IT LEGAL? If you care, read on. If not, well, you can go look at some pretty pictures of Kirsten and go on with your blissful life.

Still reading? OK! Tod Brody (photographer) claims "that he took the snapshot at a casting call for a television commercial in New York City in 1983" (according to VF), while Kennis alleges it was taken by her mother. Brody says there was a release signed by Kennis, and Kennis claims that the release is a forgery. The whole thing revolves around a lot of he said/she said, which seems to be typical of these kinds of disputes.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with our friend Nancy Wolff, who is a lawyer with a lot of expertise in this area. So we parsed out the details of the photo and the potential misuse. Although Kennis claims the quality of the photo (Polaroid) is proof that it could not have been a professional shot, In 1983 it was common practice to take Polaroids to test lighting, and many professionals did this. So Kennis may not have much of a copyright case (copyright infringement being the use of the photo without ownership of it).

But the main issue we discussed was right of privacy/right of publicity. Kennis has a right to control how her likeness is used for commercial purposes. Laws exist to protect celebrities from having their faces plastered all over goods and services without compensation. However, Kennis and her lawyers would have to show that Vampire Weekend (and XL) used her face to sell records, a correlation that might be a bit of a stretch, considering no one knew who she was until she started asking for millions of dollars. XL more than likely did everything right, negotiated a contract with the photographer, etc. It seems like the whole thing boils down to the supposed validity of the release, and the true origin of the photo, neither of which are clear from the facts.

Pitchfork: Vanity Fair astutely points out that the lawsuit highlights a generation gap and our increasingly blurred notions of copyright and permission of use. Kennis said, "You start to see interviews from fans of the band, and they are like, 'I would just be glad that my picture was on it.' Well, not really. They are using it for their gain. Something is wrong here. It's like, don't just use my picture all over the place."

Sigh. Magic 8-Ball says: ASK AGAIN LATER. -joe puglisi

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