I've been wondering about this issue for a long time. It's common practice for websites such as The Dirty, Complaints Bureau, Pink Meth and My Ex to shamelessly plaster their logo on the photographs and videos of victims. When I use the word "victim" in this blog post, I am referring to revenge porn victims as well as defamation victims.
There are several reasons why it's not wise to plaster your website logo on a victim's photos. I am not aware of any cases where a lawyer has broached this issue in a lawsuit, but I think it could be an interesting one to explore.
First, let's consider a scenario where the victim does not own the copyright to her photo. Although she does not own the rights to her photos, when a website owner posts his own website's logo on her photos, it could possibly constitute misappropriation of likeness. In other words, these websites are using the victim's photo as a vehicle to promote their brands. Why else would they plaster their logos on a victim's photos? If there is another reason, I'd be curious to know.
The elements of misappropriation of likeness vary from state to state. For example, in some states, the defendant has to commercially profit from use of the plaintiff's likeness; in other states, he does not. Since the aforementioned websites are commercial enterprises, a plaintiff who is posted on these websites would have an easier time meeting the elements regardless of where she and the defendant live.
Now let's consider a second scenario. Website owners argue that they are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act when a a third party posts photos to their websites. However, when a website intentionally and willfully plasters it logo on a victim's photo that is submitted by a third party, does this constitute creation or development of information? In other words, could the website be defined as an information content provider? If so, he is no longer protected by Section 230.
I have looked through various popular online media publications, such as Star Magazine, People Magazine, and U.S. Weekly Magazine, and they do not put their logos on photos that they post. If they do, I assume it's because they own the copyright to the photo. I understand how Perez Hilton can write comments and little scribbly-dos on the photos on his website, but I don't quite understand how he gets away with putting his logo on photos either. Again, maybe he owns the copyright to them.
On a final note, The Dirty labels ordinary people as "Dirty Celebrities." Surely, this is another way to use them to endorse The Dirty's brand. Some of these people may have agreed to being branded as a "Dirty Celebrity," but I don't think that all of them have.
Perhaps these issues have already been addressed in case law. If not, they are worth looking into.