A Palmerston North woman is angry, embarrassed and out of pocket after an American company used her photograph without permission to sell "celebrity" diet pills.
Maree Briggs, a mother of two, says the photograph was used without her knowledge in an online testimonial for Metabo-Speed XXX, a dietary supplement touted as "the diet pill of the stars" and supposedly endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Bette Midler.
It is one of several weight-loss pills sold over the internet by Lab 88.
While not sure how Lab 88 got hold of the photograph, Maree believes it may have been lifted from the website of an Australian-based company she was involved with in the late 1990s.
The picture was taken by her husband, Steve, and used in magazine advertisements here and in Australia to promote The Natural Way, a diet plan that Maree completed in 1999, and later held the local franchise for.
Natural Way paid the Briggs $250 for its use.
But unbeknown to them, Lab 88 - a New York-based "health centre" - was using the same photograph to accompany the "success" story of "Jessica Daniels".
"When I turned 40 I lost over 100 pounds thanks to Metabo Speed... I feel like a brand new woman and boy, so does my husband", the "all new Jessica" states at the beginning of a 14-paragraph testimonial for the pills.
After several attempts at contacting the company, the Briggs took the costly step of getting legal advice and the photograph was removed this year.
However the couple said it was not the end of the matter and they were now seeking compensation.
A letter from a Californian lawyer noted that under US law Maree could claim damages for false advertising, unfair business practices, copyright infringement and commercial misappropriation of her likeness.
"It's not the money, but the principle," said Maree. "How dare they put my face to something like that. It's a cock-and-bull story, it's a lie and it's conning people."
Lab 88 was also using spurious celebrity endorsements, she said. "They get away with it by adding a footnote that says they [Winfrey, Midler] have been associated with products they sell, or specific ingredients contained within their products."
Steve said: "We are still really angry about it. We were horrified to see it. There's a whole range of emotions you go through, from disbelief to embarrassment. And, in some way you feel violated... Basically Maree was used to promote something she has absolutely nothing to do with."
Numerous posts from dissatisfied customers proved the pills were nothing more than a scam, he said.
The Briggs have been told it will cost upwards of US$500 ($670) an hour if they want to take further action against Lab88.
Internet law specialist Rick Shera said lifting material from the internet was becoming increasingly common.
"It's all copyright infringement, of course, but the difficulty is doing anything about it and deciding whether it's worth doing anything about. For people like Viacom suing Google it is, but for, say you and I, generally it's not."
He suggested anyone with similar concerns should contact the company and request they delete any copies of the photographs in their system. "Probably it won't get a response but at least it sets a peg in the ground so if it happens again, it becomes a much more flagrant infringement."
In another case of image misuse on the internet an American man looking for love used a photo of Canterbury Crusader Richie McCaw to lure women online. McCaw's photo accompanied two online profiles on a dating website in the US. The McCaw impersonator claimed he was a dateless Las Vegas casino worker called Elden, who was looking to meet nice ladies with soul.