There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity, and Julia Allison Wants It Scrubbed From the Web

Last Updated Jan 19, 2011 10:14 AM EST

Julia Allison, the self-invented internet celebrity who made a career out of living her life in public, is discovering that there is such a thing as bad publicity: She's asking anyone who's published unflattering photos of her to take them down because some of them aren't playing well with her sponsors.
Allison, who once courted the limelight so assiduously that there are 26 pages of results for her name on the gossip blog Gawker, is finding that a high level of public disclosure has a downside: Once disclosed, it stays disclosed, and lives forever on the web. This makes it incredibly difficult for Americans -- and their companies and brands -- to give their lives a second act.

Allison told me in a phone call that her sponsors -- which have included Trojan condoms and Sony -- have not liked what they've seen on the Web, so she's "going through my Google results to fix things." She insisted BNET take down seven photos of her. (This anti-Allison web site also recently took down some photos after a request by a photographer.) Some of those shots showed her in a less-than-flattering light (in one she wears a dress made out of condoms, in another she's spanking a sweaty male stripper) but in others she clearly posed for a professional photographer. Allison claimed she owned the copyright to all the images even though some of them were clearly marked with someone else's copyright stamp. BNET complied, given that we couldn't immediately identify who owned the images. Allison wrote in an email:

I understand that perhaps some of these photos weren't in context for you. The condom costume was a joke Halloween gag in 06, modeled after my little brother did a Halloween costume as a "Trojan soldier" complete with condoms. At the time I was a dating columnist, and the whole thing was paid for by Trojan condoms. I had a renowned costume designer actually put the dress together. I thought it was hysterical. Lady Gaga wears crazier outfits to get her coffee! The stripper slap was a private photo of me taken by a friend on vacation. The Gawker photoshoot of me in lingerie with the older man was meant to be a meta joke on Maxim shoots. etc etc.
Allison also objected to the way she was portrayed in my previous item on her, which described her "as much a shameless scorn-object as she is a celebrity." She wrote in an email:
Despite the fact that you believe I am a "fame seeker," that's really never been the case. I am not famous in the least, and I don't do anything I do to garner fame, per se. I just wanted to make a living, and I have a sense of humor (all of those photos were tongue-in-cheek.)
At this point, communications between the two of us broke down into invective: She insisted I was victimizing her further with my uncharitable descriptions of her photos; I told her it wasn't my job to help her rewrite history.

Although Sony used Allison in an ad campaign that started a year ago, she has since been eclipsed by commercials featuring Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning.

My original point regarding Sony and Allison remains, however: In general, corporations like their celebrity endorsers to behave conservatively, even in their personal lives. (Exhibit A: Tiger Woods.) You can debate whether this is fair, but the bottom line is that if you don't like the compromise then don't take the money.

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Image by Flickr user shankbone, CC.