Google Sued by Iowa Insurance Exec Over Copyrighted Photo

After Google refused several requests to remove her photograph from a satirical Website that mocked her appearance, the executive and her company filed a lawsuit.

An Iowa insurance executive has filed a lawsuit against Google for allowing a copyrighted photograph of the woman to remain on a satirical blog site that mocks the physical appearance of the woman and other business executives.

The Website, Sexy Executives, published the copyrighted photograph on Dec. 7, 2009, without permission, according to ARAG North America, which filed the lawsuit, according to a Jan. 7 story by The Des Moines Register.

The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 31, 2013, against Google because it owns, where the Sexy Executives blog is hosted, according to the paper. The blog site, which began in October 2009, had its last entry in May 2011, based on an inspection of the blog.

In a statement emailed to eWEEK, Ann Dieleman, a senior vice president and chief marketing and business development officer of ARAG, said the legal action came after several attempts to ask Google to remove her image, which is protected by a copyright, went unresolved.

"A blogger posted my corporate photo and invited unfavorable comments," Dieleman wrote. "We’ve followed the appropriate procedures to remove the content, however, after continued back and forth, it was time to assert my legal rights. Sometimes life takes us by surprise and impacts us professionally and personally."

The refusal of Google to remove the image, she stated, pushed her and her company, which is a legal and financial services business based in Des Moines, Iowa, to file the lawsuit. "This reinforces why I'm so committed to ARAG's mission of enabling every citizen—not just those who can afford it—to assert their legal rights. I've been in the industry for more than 18 years. Given I've spent the majority of my career educating and empowering people to protect their rights, I didn't feel it would be right to ignore protection of my own when this situation arose.”

Dieleman's first letter to Google requesting the removal of the photo based on alleged copyright infringement was sent in September 2012, according to the story. "Google declined to remove the photo without proof that ARAG held the copyright," the story reported. An attorney for ARAG responded that the photo was in fact copyrighted by ARAG, but Google again allegedly declined to take action.

In an email response to a Jan. 9 inquiry from eWEEK, Google said it has no comment on the lawsuit.

The blog post also included three posted comments from site visitors in 2009 and 2010 that mocked Dieleman's appearance, especially her smile. One blog visitor in 2010 defended Dieleman, saying that the offensive posts by some visitors were posted by "creeps." Since the news of the lawsuit has surfaced, 31 new comments have been posted starting on Jan. 4, 2014, with several comments that are supportive of her, while the majority of the comments continue to mock her, often with profanity and insults.

Dieleman has been working in sales and marketing in the financial services industry for almost 20 years, according to her biography on the ARAG Website. She received a bachelor's degree in business and communications from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and her master's degree from Drake University in Des Moines. She holds an associate's degree in customer service designation from the Life Office Management Association.