When fat-pride blogger Rachele Cateyes posted an online photo of herself in a bright blue two-piece swimsuit last summer, it signified a major moment of empowerment. “Wearing a bikini as a fat woman is an act of rebellion,” she’d written on her Fat Babe Designs blog. “I felt glorious and glamorous all at the same time.”
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The feeling was short-lived, though. The Oregon woman later discovered that her photo was popping up in a diet company’s Facebook spam ads — as the dreaded “before” photo. Now she’s embroiled in a frustrating battle with the company and its affiliates to try to get her stolen image removed from the ads. “It made me feel exposed and not in control of my own image,” Cateyes tells Yahoo Shine. “I’m used to negative attention [online], but for somebody to make money off of me? That really infuriated me.”
The 31-year-old caseworker began documenting the situation on her blog on Sunday. “They were starting to be brought to my attention by blog readers and then by people in my workplace,” she wrote. “It was a terrible, crawl in a hole feeling, and I realized that this ad is everywhere and being seen by lots and lots of people. Meaning that this disgusting, terrible…diet company is making money off my body… The body I photographed in a bikini that I feel good about and posted on the Internet to encourage other women.”
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The spam posts with her photo have been used to market the diet programs Venus Factor and Venus Index, along with phrases like “Trying to lose weight? Having trouble? Click here to check our solution.” The message has been particularly insulting to Cateyes, whose blog explains her dedication to “spreading the word on positive body image and the fat acceptance movement. I post about fatshion, feminism, and lessons about loving your fat body, living a fierce life and feeling confident.”
Dieting and feeling shame are not parts of the 300-pound activist’s platform. It’s why so many of her friends and fans were shocked to see her image hawking Venus Index on Facebook, which provides community support, diet tips, and workout regimens aimed at achieving “the right shape” in order to “make any man chase you around.”
Cateyes says that when she contacted Venus Index, she was told the company was not to blame for using her photo, and that it must have been stolen by one of its third-party “affiliates,” which are essentially commission salespeople hired for Venus by the network ClickBank. Venus co-owner Brad Howard, who has been in contact with Cateyes, tells Yahoo Shine, "As soon as I was alerted to the situation, I personally took care of it." He says he's done extensive email and Twitter blasts to find the ads with her image and get them removed, and has also leaned on ClickBank to get the offending affiliates banned, adding that Venus's rules clearly state that "you cannot use any images other than the ones we provide." When situations like this one arise, Howard points out, both Cateyes and Venus are victims. "It's unfortunate that everyone involved is being dragged through the mud," he says.
Still, Venus could be held liable for stealing and using the photo whether the company was directly responsible or not, according to Ben Depoorter, an affiliate scholar with the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. That's because it’s the company’s name that appears with the spam ads in question. Depoorter adds that Cateyes may have a case on two claims. The clearer, he tells Yahoo Shine, would be to prove an infringement of the "fair use" doctrine of federal copyright law, which grants copyright to the person who took the photo—in this case, Cateyes’s husband. “Here, the photo was for commercial use, so this would not pass the fair-use standard,” Depoorter notes. Another legal route for Cateyes to pursue, he says, is the "right of publicity," protected by state laws that basically say no one else can market your personality to sell a product. “It’s meant to help celebrities, but it also applies to noncelebrities,” he explains. “It’s just less straightforward than the copyright route because it’s harder to demonstrate harm for a noncelebrity.”
As for Facebook's role, a spokesperson for the company tells Yahoo Shine, “Facebook prohibits anyone from posting copyrighted content to Facebook unless they own the copyright or are authorized to share it. We encourage people who believe their intellectual property rights are being infringed to reach out to the individual posting the content or report it to us using our reporting tools.”
Some of the posts using Cateyes’s image have already been removed as a result of reports made to Facebook, and she hopes that many more will follow — particularly since she's used her blog, as well as Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube pleas to ask friends and readers to help her find and report the remaining spam images. “I’m definitely not going to stop making a stink about it,” she says.
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