Billboard portraying Mitt Romney, Donald Trump in same-sex wedding banned

5:55 PM, Jul 31, 2012   |    comments
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PINELLAS CO., Florida -- A billboard that was supposed to go up in Pinellas County is stirring up controversy.

It shows actors portraying Mitt Romney and Donald Trump holding hands in a same-sex marriage ceremony officiated by an actor who looks like President Barack Obama. A second image includes look-a-likes of Sarah Palin and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as they kiss in a similar wedding.

BeautifulPeople, the dating website behind the ad, wanted to display it off of State Road 580 in unincorporated Pinellas County in time for the Republican National Convention.

"We certainly wanted to get behind the LGBT community and spotlight, particularly in this case, how many of our political heavyweights are against same-sex marriage," says Greg Hodge, creator of BeautifulPeople.

But the owner of the billboard space, Clear Channel Outdoor, banned the ad from appearing in its original form. According to Jim Cullinan, the company's vice president of communications, there was concern about liability issues over using the images because the actors look like and portray politicians.

The billboard is currently up in Pinellas County, but shows only a silhouette of one of the images with the word "censored" on top of it.

Jim McGuire, a media lawyer with Thomas & LoCicero in Tampa, says celebrity look-a-likes can sometimes spark legal action.

"There's law really across the country that generally prohibits using a celebrity's image without their permission, but also prohibits using an obvious look-a-like to create the image that the celebrity has endorsed a product or service."

Satire can fall outside those rules, and the question often then becomes whether reasonable people would believe that the actual politicians are endorsing the ad's message.

"The fact that they are celebrity look-a-likes but that no one would really believe they are the celebrities endorsing this website, I think cuts against the idea that you should be able to prohibit this," McGuire says.

BeautifulPeople says lawyers are looking into the billboard ban. The company hopes to eventually be able to showcase the image as it was originally intended.

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