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Kristina Hill, et al. v. Public Advocate of the United States

Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere were shocked to discover that an anti-gay hate group took their engagement photo and used it in political mailers to attack a Colorado lawmaker for supporting same-sex civil unions.

Public Advocate of the United States, an organization designated as a hate group by the SPLC, used the engagement photo without permission and digitally altered it to include anti-gay propaganda. That image was used in a mailer that attacked Colorado state Sen. Jean White. White, who lost in the 2012 primary. A similar mailer was used to attack a House candidate.

The SPLC contacted Public Advocate and its president, Eugene Delgaudio, in July 2012 warning that it was investigating the unauthorized use of the copyrighted photo and the couple’s images. The letter demanded confirmation that the group had ceased its unauthorized use. Neither Delgaudio nor Public Advocate responded.

The SPLC and its allies filed a federal lawsuit against Public Advocate for misappropriating the likeness and personalities of the couple. It charged that as a result, the couple suffered harm, including mental distress and anguish.

The lawsuit also describes how Public Advocate infringed on the photographer’s exclusive right to the photo, which is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and jeopardized her livelihood as a professional photographer.

The original photo, taken by Kristina Hill of Kristina Hill Photography, showed the couple with the New York City skyline in the background. The couple shared the engagement photo with family and friends through Edwards’ blog, along with photos of the couple’s wedding ceremony. Delgaudio superimposed the couple onto a snowy, tree-filled background to imply the photo was taken in Colorado where White’s district is located. Bold words on a red background were added: “State Senator Jean White’s idea of ‘Family Values?’”

Public Advocate, based in Falls Church, Va., has attacked the LGBT community in the past. A fundraising letter asked readers to “imagine a world where the police allow homosexual adults to rape young boys in the streets.” The group also compared marriage equality to bestiality.