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Who Should Really Be Outraged in the $28 Million Lawsuit Against Urban Outfitters and Blood is the New Black?

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Left to right: another image from Jason Lee Parry; a provocative photo of Hailey Clauson; the photo that's causing all the fuss
Left to right: another image from Jason Lee Parry; a provocative photo of Hailey Clauson; the photo that's causing all the fuss

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The story of the contentious case brought by the parents of jailbait model Hailey Clauson against Urban Outfiters for selling graphic shirts that cast their daughter in an unauthorized, ultra-salacious light has a California component: the shirts are the product of LA-based arty tee house Blood is the New Black. Together, with Urban Outfitters and photographer Jason Lee Parry, they're being sued for $28 million dollars.

As you can imagine, they're less than thrilled with this much high-profile attention. We had an email exchange with proprietor Mitra Khayyam, and learned a little bit more about the case.

For Blood is the New Black, the suit is a two-parter: not only are they being taken to task for making and selling the allegedly-porno shirts, but also because they don't have a signed model release. BITNB did not consign this photoshoot; they merely purchased rights to the image from Parry, who himself should have obtained the model release.

Parry has tried to defend and exonerate himself; in comments given to the NY Post, he claims, "The images got stole from me." The implication being that Blood is the New Black yanked the images off of a website and printed them on the shirt.

This is literally adding insult to injury for a company that has created a name and a following by cultivating new talent and giving breakout artists the chance to get widespread exposure for non-traditional, challenging or outre work. The roster of artists and designers who've produced work for them includes Brian Lichtenberg, Kime Buzzelli, Pamela Love, Sumi Ink Club, Jesse Spears, and dozens more. The official press release on that matter states, "Blood is the New Black takes its relationship with all of our artists very seriously?and unequivocally deny any theft of artwork from the photographer."

And when we asked Khayyam about the specifics, she said Parry "?sent a pdf with over 20 images for us to pick from. He later dropped of a disc with high-res versions of our selects."

And yes, he was indeed paid for his work. "Our agreement with our artists is relatively basic. We pay them royalties on usage. When we use their images for larger stores who buy volume at a discount we pay our artists a flat fee as we did with Jason in this instance," Khayyam said.

Now, first it must be said we are not lawyers, just endowed with a lot of common sense. As to whether or not there is a model release, the buck should have stopped with the photographer -- especially since both he and Blood is the New Black assert that the parents were present at the shoot. The fact that at the time, Clauson had already been signed with major agencies, like Ford Models and then Marilyn, for two years would seem to suggest her parents would have some degree of savvy or sophistication about how these things work in the industry.

As to whether or not the image constitutes something that could be construed as pornographic -- admittedly, as a legal layperson person, we can't say anything definitive -- it may be suggestive, but it's a whole lot less raunchy than many of the images in Parry's portfolio, and it's no more risque than any of the ubiquitous shots of Clauson in a bikini. Again, it is hard to believe that the parents of a 15-year-old who had already been in Japanese Vogue would have randomly agreed to a photoshoot without looking at the photographer's work makes zero sense to us.

One reason why the amount of money they're seeking is so behemoth is the parents allege that these photos also damage Hailey's professional reputation. Her parents may, in fact, want to think about suing themselves, since they're doing far more damage to her reputation and her employability than these photos ever could.
· Underage model suing photographer over sexy photos [NY Post]
· Blood is the New Black [Official Site]