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Ralph Lauren’s Abuse of DMCA Backfires

This Ralph Lauren ad Ralph Lauren ad that let to DMCA takedown noticeshas been making the rounds of the Internet and television, recently. The reason: Photo retouching to the point of absurdity, producing a supermodel (Filippa Hamilton) who looks more like a Bratz doll than a human being.

I am not raising this issue to jump into the debate about skinny models and self-esteem of girls and women, which is being addressed at length elsewhere. (Disclosure: I have a wife and two daughters.) I am more interested in a huge legal and business mistake that Ralph Lauren made.

As soon as criticisms appeared online, Ralph Lauren lawyers issued takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (See Terms of Use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)

In my opinion, this action was an abuse of the DMCA. The reason: Because the sites in question were copying the photo for the purpose of criticism (as I am doing now), such copying was fair use of the photo. (See The “Fair Use” Defense: One Term, Two Different Meanings.)

Fortunately, Ralph Lauren found that its obnoxious tactics created more of a stink than the original photo did. A company spokesman subsequently stated:

For over 42 years, we have built a brand based on quality and integrity.
After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body.
We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.

Score one for the good guys!

Check out all posts about DMCA takedown notices.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
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