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Conservative Group Admits Stealing Oregon Gay Couple's Picture

A conservative group admitted late Friday that it illegally used a wedding photograph of a Portland, Oregon gay couple in an ad attacking the American Association for Retired People.

On Tuesday 365Gay.com reported that M. Raymen and Steven P. Hansen were threatening to sue over the use of the picture.

The ad, by USA Next, is attacking the AARP for opposing the Bush administration's proposed changes to Social Security and attempts to "discredit" the organization by suggesting it supports gay marriage and opposes the war in Iraq.

The AARP has come under fire from conservatives for opposing President Bush's call for Social Security reform.

The ad features two photos, one of a soldier and one with a picture of two men in tuxedos kissing. The picture of the solider has an X over it. The one of Raymen and Hansen has a checkmark. The ad has the caption "The real AARP agenda."

The ad was produced for USA Next by Mark Montini International, Montini is a GOP strategist and chief executive officer of CampaignSecrets.com.

In addition, ABC news has linked some of the members of USA Next to the same people behind the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that challenged the war record of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. And, there have been unverified suggestions that Montini has links to Talon News the now defunct conservative online publication that employed J.D. Guckert the man who posed as a White House reporter while working as a male prostitute

Both USA Next and Montini initially said that they had bought the rights to the photo of Raymen and Hansen from the Portland Tribune. A Tribune photographer had shot the picture during Portland's brief attempt to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples last year.

Today, the Tribune issued a statement that it had not sold rights to the photo.

"The paper did not give, sell or contribute its use in any way, and no request for its use was received before the photo appeared in the ad," said Tim Jewett, Portland Tribune photo director.

Such a request, if submitted, would have been rejected anyway, Jewett said, because the paper won’t sell photos for commercial use without the permission of people shown in the photo.

The Tribune also says that when it informed Montini of his illegal use of the photo he clandestinely attempted to buy a similar photo of the couple that appears in the Tribune's online library.

"Montini tested the newspaper’s photo-sales policies and submitted an Internet request and payment to buy a similar but not identical photo for private use," the paper said. "Virginia Meyers, the Tribune photo assistant who monitors photo Web sales, called him to ask for what purpose he was using the photo. At that point, he said he was only checking to see how the paper’s policy worked, and Meyers refunded his money .

"... after Montini had been told by Meyers by phone and via e-mail that the paper would not sell him the photo for use in an ad, he tried another tack. He sent $600 — the typical fee for such commercial use of a photo— through PayPal, the electronic money transfer system, in payment for using the photo. The money was quickly refunded in full via PayPal because the newspaper would not grant permission for an ad agency to use a photo in this way."

Montini and USA Next could be looking at huge payout for illegally using the picture. They would have to settle with both the paper and with Raymen and Hansen.
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