Sunday, January 31, 2016

Val Chmerkovskiy of DWTS Fame Sued for Posting a Meme - Is This Fair?

Valentin Chmerkovskiy, along with CBS news and the photographer of a photograph are finding themselves the subject of a, in my opinion, frivolous lawsuit.

Image from Zimbio.com
A girl with Down Syndrome, who is now 16 years old, drank a large soda in 2008. A guy took a picture of it and the event cascaded. Here's the scenario, per TMZ.com. Note that you can see the image on TMZ's website.

The girl claims in 2008 she was at a baseball game and someone took the picture of her drinking a soda. The guy posted the pic with the heading, "Everything that's wrong with America."

The pic became a meme in 2014, and Val posted it 3 weeks ago on Facebook.  The caption on the meme read, "Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse."

Because the pic went viral and Val refused to apologize and remove the photo (he responded to the girl's mom's email saying that she's the problem, essentially), the girl is now suing for emotional distress, defamation and invasion of privacy.

The girl is asking for $6 million from Val, $6 million from CBS because they also posted the photo, and $600,000 from the photographer.

Okay, what? Here's the thing. When you're in public, you have no expectation of privacy. Per the American Society of Media Photographers' website:

Q: Am I legally permitted to photograph strangers in public places? Are city and state parks considered public places?
A: Yes, you can photograph strangers in public places, unless you do it to such an extent and in such a way that you become a harasser or nuisance to the public.

First and foremost, the photographer was within his right to take the picture. As the subject was in a public place and the photographer lawfully took the photo, I see no case here.

Secondly, the parents of this girl, who are obviously involved in this lawsuit, had to know that starting this lawsuit would thrust their daughter further into the spotlight. If the daughter really wanted this to go away and forget about it, a very public lawsuit would not be the best option.

Thirdly, I find it hard to respect this lawsuit given the amount of money being requested. I would respect this lawsuit more if:
  • The photographer was not being sued because he was within his rights.
  • The lawsuit noted that money from the winnings will support charitable causes to assist with Down Syndrome and childhood obesity.
  • The lawsuit were for a fair amount of money and seemed to have some level of positive intention.
I have not read the whole lawsuit so I don't know if any of my above points are included in the lawsuit, but they are not as far as I'm aware.

I really don't think this kid has a case, and I also don't think she'll win if it goes to court, but I think that CBS and Val Chmerkovskiy will pay the family some money to be quiet, and if the family's seeking fame, the girl will end up with a guest spot on a TV show or something and get her 15 minutes in the spotlight. For example, there was a character on Glee with Down Syndrome; this could happen again on another show.

Please note - I am arguing legality, not morality, in this blog post. What the photographer did initially was not right when it comes to ethics. And when the girl's mom asked Val to remove the photo, he should have. Telling the mom that she's not parenting correctly isn't a great thing to do, and I don't think many people are arguing about that. But her grudge against Val is certainly not worth the $12 million dollars she's asking for. Plenty of people are featured in memes all the time and they don't sue the people posting them. Goosebumps girl, for example.

Here's my thing - I don't doubt that the girl was embarrassed, and I don't think featuring people in memes without their consent is a nice, kind, fair thing to do. I do feel sorry for her and I do wish she didn't go through pain because of Val's selfish actions. But this was not intentional slander, and in an age where practically everything in public, things like this will happen.

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