Internet Law

Did shock jock defame man with Down syndrome by R-word alteration of his photo? Suit seeks $18M

A Tennessee couple is suing over the online alteration of a photo of their son who has Down syndrome.

The $18 million defamation suit filed by Pamela and Bernard Holland targets a shock jock radio show, the “Sign Generator” website, and an individual who posted the photo with a caption labeling him a “sick retarded kid.” The Associated Press, ABC News, the Huffington Post and the Nashville City Paper have stories.

According to the suit, Sign Generator posted a 2004 photo of the Hollands’ son, Adam, taken when he was 17 years old in an art class. The photo shows the smiling youth holding up a sign reading “Go Titans.” Sign Generator charged a fee for users to download the image and change the text in Adam’s artwork, the suit alleges.

The suit claims Tampa Bay radio station WHPT-FM posted the photo and altered the sign to read “Retarded News.” The station’s retarded news section highlights odd stories. The station later took down the photo and apologized, according to the suit.

Also named as a defendant in the suit is a Minnesota man who posted the photo on his Flicrkr account with the caption, “Just a stupid photo of the sick retarded kid that lives down my street that my dogs hate.”

The suit claims violations of the Tennessee Personal Rights Act, false light invasion of privacy, misappropriation of likeness, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation, according to the Nashville City Paper.

Nashville lawyer Larry Crain represents the family. He told AP the suit highlights the need to strengthen laws on the unauthorized and altered use of photos. “Many of the laws protect celebrities and who, for name recognition purposes, have a special interest in protecting their name and privacy,” he said. “This is a case where an innocent individual has been victimized. The Holland family and this young boy are the picture of innocence, and for him to be the victim of this type of maligning is a case that calls for toughening of the laws in this area.”

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