Placebo's album cover 'ruined my life'

David Fox as he appears on the cover of Placebo's 1996 self-titled debut. Photo / Supplied
David Fox as he appears on the cover of Placebo's 1996 self-titled debut. Photo / Supplied

You might not know the name David Fox but if you were a music fan in the mid-90s, you'll almost certainly be familiar with his face.

As a 12-year-old, Fox appeared on the cover of Placebo's 1996 best-selling debut album, swamped in an oversized red jumper, pulling a cheeky face.

Now a 28-year-old unemployed chef, Fox is threatening to sue the band for damages, claiming the picture ruined his life and was used without his consent.

Fox's cousin was a professional photographer who took his picture when visiting the family. A month later he called, telling Fox that he was going to be on the cover of a rock album.

The relentless bullying from classmates that followed, Fox says, knocked his life off track and was one of the reasons he dropped out of his GCSEs.

So where does the law stand?

"The copyright in an image will be vested in the photographer, not the subject, and the record label is likely to have obtained a licence," says Keith Ashby, the head of dispute resolution at Sheridans, a leading media-law firm.

"If the subject posed for the image and realised that the photograph was being taken, then it's going to be difficult for the subject to assert privacy rights in relation to the image, although the law does provide greater protection for children."

There is a rich history of unwitting album cover stars, propelled to fame via a record sleeve, their faces looking down from billboards and peering up from shop shelves.

In 2010 Kirsten Kennis sued Vampire Weekend after a photograph of her taken in 1983 was used as the artwork for their album Contra, which she claims wasn't taken by the photographer who sold the image to the band.

She was not aware that her image was being used until her teenage daughter brought the album home.

A similar case occurred in 2005 when Frank Torres, featured on the cover of Matchbox 20's Yourself or Someone Like You, sued the band for using his image without consent.

But not everyone minds gracing an album cover. Spencer Elden, who's now 21, is still introduced as "the Nirvana baby", having appeared on the cover of the band's 1991 breakthrough Nevermind as a three-month-old baby.

He recently recreated the famous image (albeit this time with swimming trunks on). Similarly, Keithroy Yearwood, a student, was thrilled he was the baby on Ready to Die, Notorious BIG's debut album; he had often bragged about it but few believed him.

Even the subject of one of the most controversial covers, Blind Faith's eponymous album, has shrugged it off. Many were outraged when 11-year-old Mariora Goschen was photographed topless, clasping a model aeroplane.

"At the time it was a nuisance, being recognised in the street," she told The Independent in 1994.

"But now, when people tell me they can remember what they were doing when they first saw the cover, and the effect it had on them, I'm thrilled to bits."

So parents beware of handing over your child to a photographer friend for a few casual shots. You never know where they might end up - or how they will react to joining the ranks of the accidental album cover star.

- The Independent

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