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Dating Websites Sued by Fallen Soldier's Family

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Though he was killed in 2007 while stationed in Iraq, Army Lt. Peter Burks' image is anything but forgotten. His family has sued dating websites and, accusing the sites of misappropriating the fallen soldier's likeness.

A photo of Burks appeared on both sites in December, accompanied by an advertising slogan declaring he was a "Military Man Searching for Love." His parents were furious to learn that their engaged son was being used to promote online dating.

It appears that the dating sites -- or whoever is responsible for their advertising -- stole the photo off of a website for the family's non-profit, the Unsung Hero Fund. The charity was started soon after Peter Burks' death and sends care packages to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Burks' parents can use his photo on the charity's website, the dating sites cannot.

Individuals have a right to control their name and image, including when and how they are used. Most states prohibit third parties from commercially using an individual's likeness without prior consent. This generally applies regardless if the individual is a celebrity.

When an individual dies, his likeness becomes the "property" of his estate. If a business wants to use the person's photo to sell a product, it must get permission from the estate's executor.

In this case, Peter Burks' parents appear to be the estate's executors -- they are the only people who can approve the use of their son's image. By failing to get permission, the dating sites and their advertisers have violated the law.

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