GLOBAL BRIEF: Watch out for unwitting stars - Taking someone’s picture could cost more than you expect, Nick Peters warns

By NICK PETERS,, Friday, 12 September 1997 12:00AM

How much would you pay a complete nobody to appear in a car ad campaign?

How much would you pay a complete nobody to appear in a car ad


A few quid? Maybe you would offer them a couple of promotional


Most punters would walk away feeling quite pleased with that.

Randy Walter might have been flattered too - if only the Korean ad

agency, MBC Adcom, had asked his permission to run his picture in the

campaign it was putting together for the new Sephia, the latest model

from the troubled Korean car company, Kia.

Instead, Walter is suing Kia for what court sources describe as a ’high

six-figure sum’ for using his image without his knowledge and, in the

process, allegedly damaging his career.

Walter was wandering down a San Francisco street a couple of years ago,

minding his own business, when an MBC Adcom photographer on the Kia

campaign snapped him. Back in the studio, an art director manipulated

the shot to make it look like Randy was admiring the new Sephia. The

resulting ad ran in magazines across South Korea, and there the story

might have ended, with Walter the unwitting - and unpaid - star of the


But the ad also ran in the Korean Airlines magazine, and was seen by an

executive for the Genencor International corporation who wondered why on

earth someone wearing a Genencor golf shirt would be taking part in a

campaign for Kia. Despite all the manipulation of Walter’s photo, MBC

Adcom had not realised the significance of the logo on the shirt.

So that’s how Walter found out about the use of his image. Claiming the

experience had damaged his career, he filed suit in the Los Angeles

County Superior Court. He has already won a default judgment against MBC

Adcom, which failed to appear in court, and is seeking major damages

from Kia, which admits it was in the wrong but disputes the size of the

damages being claimed.

The moral of the story is that a signed release form today could save a

nasty lawsuit tomorrow. The price of a total nobody’s image could be an

awful lot higher than you think.

This article was first published on


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