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Models sue Vogue and Moda Operandi over ‘pervasive’ image misuse

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Sep 11, 2020


An alliance of 44 models is suing Vogue publisher Condé Nast and online fashion retailer Moda Operandi for “broadly” using their images to sell high fashion garments without authorized permission.

A complaint filed on September 4th at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York accuses the fashion publisher and luxury e-tailer of violating New York civil law. The models include household faces who have fronted campaigns including Chanel, Dior Louis Vuitton, Prada, Nike and H&M and are represented by Next Management LLC, one of the biggest and most successful model agencies in the world.

Condé Nast is amongst the world’s most powerful media publishers, owning revered fashion and news titles such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, and The New Yorker. According to World Intellectual Property Review (WIPR), Condé Nast and Moda Operandi “intentionally traded on [the] plaintiffs’ fame and notoriety” to promote fashion products. The images included photographs of the models backstage at fashion shows, as well as on the runway.

Moda Operandi further showed the images on its own website, as well as in advertisements published in Vogue. The defendants have failed to provide any compensation for the alleged misuse of the models’ image rights, the complaint added.

Despite being “sophisticated licensors and licensees of intellectual property and knowing that a model release is required to use a person’s name or image or likeness for trade, advertising or commercial purposes,” the plaintiffs claim that Moda Operandi and Vogue used their images on their respective websites for “trade, advertising and commercial purposes,” said The Fashion Law.

A model’s livelihood is dependent on image and protection thereof

The plaintiffs, who include Anna Cleveland, Binx Walton and Victoria’s Secret model Alanna Addington, said Moda Operandi purposely altered images in a bid to avoid liability under state and federal law. WIPR previously reported on the challenges of protecting image rights in the fashion industry, especially in the context of social media but the models claim unauthorized use is illegal, as their “livelihood is based upon their respective image, persona, face and physical attributes and how such images may serve to promote or advertise the sale of products or services.”

According to The Fashion Law the models sent cease and desist letters to Conde Nast and Moda Operandi in April 2020, but despite communications from both of the defendants, including entering into “a confidentiality agreement so that Vogue could provide certain pre-suit disclosures on a confidential basis and for settlement purposes,” the parties have not reached settlements and the photos remain on both parties’ websites.

The models are seeking compensation and “exemplary damages to be determined at trial, and a permanent injunction to bar the defendants from making such alleged unauthorized uses of their images going forward.”

Models rarely, if ever, own the copyright to the images of which they are the subject when taken by third-party photographers. If the photographer was commissioned by Condé Nast and these images subsequently licensed to Moda Operandi, the accusation of breach is more complicated and dependent on the what the original usage of the image was contracted for.

Image PippiLongstocking via Shutterstock

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The Fashion Law