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Amateur Hour: YouTube Bans Levi's "Rear View Girls" Over Basic Legal Error

YouTube has pulled Levi Strauss & Co.'s "Rear View Girls" video "because its contents violated YouTube's terms of service" after only two weeks on the web. The takedown is an embarrassment to Levi's for two reasons:

  1. It was the most successful piece of viral marketing Levi's has done in years, garnering more than 7 million views in just days.
  2. The video was removed because Levi's ad agency, Colenso BBDO in New Zealand, apparently failed to get model release permissions from people on the streets of Los Angeles seen gawking at the backsides of the two models in the film.
The video utilized an "ass cam" to show how many people look at women's butts when they walk down the street. (The video, below, can still be seen in a pirated version elsewhere on YouTube.) When asked why the clip had disappeared, a Levi's spokesperson told BNET:
We're looking into this and will let you know when we have more information.
YouTube did not return a message requesting comment. New Zealand's National Business Review reported:
... several people filmed for what has now been revealed as a Levis campaign had not given permission for their faces to be shown in the viral video.
The law regarding the use of images shot in public spaces is confusing. Generally, anyone has the right to shoot photographs of people in public. However, you also generally have to get permission -- in the form of a model release -- to use someone's image in a commercial.

For the general counsel at Levi's and BBDO, however, this is an elementary piece of marketing law -- and they seem to have ignored it. Using intellectual property that doesn't belong to the advertiser is surprisingly common in the advertising business. Kia, Office Depot, M&Ms, Dodge, Adidas and Taco Bell have all been accused of running campaigns based on material they did not have the legal rights to.


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