16-year-old fashion model Hailey Clauson's parents are suing photographer Jason Lee Parry and chain retailer Urban Outfitters. Clauson's parents are unhappy with how Clauson, who turned 15 the month the pictures were taken, is depicted — and they're unhappy that photos taken for a magazine editorial have turned up on t-shirts for sale at Urban Outfitters.
"She is posed in a blatantly salacious manner with her legs spread, without a bra, revealing portions of her breasts," the lawsuit alleges. "The image of Teen in a spread eagle position making her crotch area the focal point of the image may portray a child in a sexually suggestive manner and may be in violation of one or more federal and/or state laws."
In March of 2010, when the photos were taken for an editorial spread in an unnamed magazine, Hailey Clauson (who is not named in the suit, but who is without question the girl featured in the Parry photographs that somehow made their way to the Urban Outfitters t-shirt rack) was a promising young model with a few editorial credits (and some Forever 21 catalog work) to her name. But since then, she's become a breakout star. In September of 2010, Clauson walked for Calvin Klein, Gucci, Versace, Christian Dior, Lanvin, Hermès, Miu Miu, and Louis Vuitton. In October of 2010, she appeared in an editorial in Vogue Italia. Then she became a face of Gucci. That was all before she celebrated her 16th birthday. Now, Clauson appears regularly in various international edition of Vogue. As a model, Hailey Clauson sells the rights to her image for a living. And between March, 2010, and August, 2011, her image became a lot more valuable.
If Parry thought he might monetize some old photos he had of a rising star before her big break, well, it wouldn't be the first time. Supermodel Lara Stone, who worked for years in relative anonymity before becoming a face of Chanel and an editorial star, sued a photographer who tried to cash in on her rising fame by selling old shots of her to French Playboy. Stone won, and donated her "significant" damages to charity.
The sexy-underaged-girl angle to the lawsuit is no doubt why this story is being covered in the tabloids, but — the appropriateness of taking a crotch shot of a 15-year-old and calling it "fashion" aside — the nature of the pictures really has little to do with it. This is a dispute over photo licensing. Clauson was willing to participate in an editorial shoot for a fashion magazine. That specific usage consent doesn't mean the photographer has the right to sell those same photos for commercial uses, like an Urban Outfitters t-shirt.