Class action against use of yearbooks continues

Legal Newsline reports a class-action lawsuit alleges genealogy site is using photos of people without their permission. According to the report, Clifford Law Offices and Morgan & Morgan, representing Sergio Bonilla, filed their case on Dec. 14 in Chicago federal court, taking aim at Ancestry’s use of school yearbooks from the 20th century.

“Ancestry has not received consent from, given notice to, or provided compensation to the millions of Illinoisans whose names, photographs, biographical information and identities appear in its Ancestry Yearbook Database,” the lawsuit says. This collection of yearbooks is a selling point when Ancestry offers its membership services, the lawsuit says.

“The sole purpose of offering the promotional limited-access version of the website is to induce users to subscribe to its paid product and service,” the suit says. “By providing access to and encouraging use of its Ancestry Yearbook Database as part of its promotional limited-access website for non-subscribers, Ancestry is using the identities of Plaintiff and the class to advertise and promote its subscription products and services.

This suit is one of several filed on this matter. In December, a similar suit was cited where Chicago judge Virginia Kendall allowed lawyers to pursue recovery for alleged violation of the Illinois Right of Publicity Act while tossing claims made under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The lawsuit seeks to penalize for using old yearbook photos without permission to advertise its pay service. Lawyers at Clifford Law Offices, Morgan and Morgan and Bursor & Fisher had defended their claims by pointing to a Seattle judge’s decision to let a similar case go forward against Whitepages. said it was protected from suit by the Communications Decency Act.

“Ancestry recasts Plaintiff’s claims on the ‘mere reposting’ of yearbook records, which is inconsistent with Plaintiff’s allegations that Ancestry uses those records and the likeness/identity to sell subscription services beyond his individual yearbook record,” Kendall wrote.

“These allegations, taken as true, do not establish that Ancestry is a ‘passive conduit’ that should receive immunity under the CDA. Plaintiff has alleged that Ancestry collected and organized records and subsequently used Plaintiff’s and the putative class members’ names, likenesses, and identities in these records they curated for commercial gain.”