ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV.com) - A St. Charles County family photo is showing up all over the globe and it’s happening without their permission.
Danielle Smith originally posted a photo of her with her family to her lifestyle blog, prettyextraordinary.com, back in 2008. The picture was also used as the Smith family Christmas card.
Smith tagged the photo with “happy family”, which made it easy for anyone to find while conducting an image search on Google.
Then in 2009, the Smith and her family discovered their picture was being used in strange places. The Smiths were shocked to discover the photo, which includes both of their children, was being used on a grocery store billboard in Europe.
A family friend also discovered their faces printed on merchandise in the Czech Republic. Danielle Smith described their friend’s random encounter saying, “he had gone into a store and saw the picture” on things like pillows.
The photo has been used repeatedly on websites without the Smith’s permission since then.
The Christmas card photo was used to market a pediatric dental office in Canada. It was used on a site called lowermypowerbills.com. The Smiths’ family photo was even used to market the sale of Christmas cards.
Earlier just this year, a family friend discovered the Smiths’ picture hanging behind the reception desk at a chiropractor’s office in Auburn, Alabama.
In some cases, the Smiths felt the misuse of their family photo was harmless, but in other instances they have been more concerned.
The Smiths were upset to discover their family photo was being used on a website offering a fake testimonial. The St. Charles County family was also used to advertise an Arizona business that helps families avoid bankruptcy. Smith’s husband, Jeff, added it was a “complete misrepresentation of us.”
The Smiths were quoted saying “Last year our daughter became ill” and “We were thrown into foreclosure due to medical bills” on the Arizona business’ website.
“What if there is something like that out there that affects my children and jobs, tied to this photo and incorrect information is attached to it,” Danielle Smith said.
Nikhel Patel is the director of IT training at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers in St. Louis County. News 4 spoke with Patel about the Smith’s situation.
“It could happen to anyone,” Patel said. “There is no level of protection above and beyond not posting the picture.”
Misappropriating someone’s photo online is not a criminal act according to Saint Louis University professor Yvette Liebesman, but it could lead to lawsuits.
Liebesman specializes in copyright infringement. She said the copyright belongs to the person who took the photo but you can’t sue unless you register the photo at copyright.gov.
The Smiths said they have spent numerous hours over the years asking individuals to stop using their photo. Liebesman said you can avoid that step by contacting the web hosting company directly.
“They notify the actual infringer and say ‘hi, we took this down because we have a complaint from the actual copyright owner’,” Liebesman said.
Web hosting companies can be found by visiting the site hostingdetector.com and entering the website’s domain name.
The Smiths said they aren’t interested in filing lawsuits but they would like to know why the photo continues to circulate without their permission. Danielle Smith is convinced it’s being sold through a stock photo site she’s been unable to locate online.
The family maintains a positive outlook on their misappropriated Christmas card, however, finding humor in their wide representation.
“We are the prototypical Czech family, and health for chiropractors, good dentistry, and apparently we look like a family that may have been foreclosed on,” Smith said.