Last spring Penthouse magazine, after announcing the publication of topless photos of Anna Kournikova, had to pay a judgment and issue an apology to model Judith Soltesz-Benetton, the woman really in the pictures. On Miami Beach, Soltesz-Benetton had been seeking a suntan without lines when she was glimpsed by Frank Ramaesiri, a vacationing salesman from St. Louis, who mistook her for Kournikova, snapped photos and sold them to Penthouse. …
Penthouse claimed it ran the photos because it reasonably believed the subject to be Kournikova, who would be a “public figure” under libel law. When Soltesz-Benetton filed suit, the result was this preposterous courtroom scene described by The Associated Press: “The judge studied Penthouse pictures as the magazine’s publisher, Bob Guccione, defended the likenesses of each woman’s wristwatch, freckles and the ‘attitude of the pinkie,’ as in the direction they like to point their smallest fingers.” The judge had to study the topless pictures — the things he must do for his country!
Ramaesiri, The AP further reported, said he believed the woman he photographed to be Kournikova because she “seemed Russian.” What, she had a vodka bottle in one hand and a book of poetry in the other? Further, Ramaesiri thought he’d stumbled on Kournikova because the woman “acted like a celebrity who wanted to be left alone.” Now let’s see, salesman from St. Louis approaches a hot babe sunbathing topless and immediately whips out his camera, she then acts like she wants to be left alone. What woman other than Anna Kournikova could possibly have that reaction?
To collect damages, Soltesz-Benetton had to claim harm, so she asserted she was “very offended” to be misidentified as Kournikova. Offended to be mistaken for someone often described as the most beautiful woman in the world? Soltesz-Benetton also asserted she was “very embarrassed” by publication of the photos. But Soltesz-Benetton called a press conference to announce that the photos were of her! If Soltesz-Benetton had simply said nothing, everyone would have thought the photos were Anna and no embarrassment would have fallen on the actual subject.