Lawsuit claims Chico photographer never told student she’d be nude on the Web
Her bio on one online erotic gallery describes the 18-year-old Chico State University sophomore as “fiery and strong willed, more than most men can handle.”
Donny Pauling, who photographed many young women in the nude from his Chico home studio, found out just how strong-willed Tamara Rogers was last week, when she filed a lawsuit against him claiming he used her pictures on a porn site without her permission.
In the civil suit filed April 17 in Butte County Superior Court, Rogers alleges that she never agreed for the products of a September 2002 photo session to make their way onto pornographic Internet sites. Her suit, which is also filed “on behalf of the general public,” claims Pauling promised her photos would be seen by only “a few” clients and then exploited her image.
“It’s an outright fraud,” said Joe Earley, the Paradise attorney who is representing Rogers and who hopes to identify subjects who didn’t know they were on the site. The suit also alleges misrepresentation and invasion of privacy.
But the naked truth is much different, Pauling insists. “I do everything above-board,” he said. “She knew she was on the site. She knew what kind of clients I have.”
Going by the name Donovan Phillips, Pauling has done dozens of “test shoots” of Chico women, most of them posing topless or completely nude for the first time, at a house in Chico.
His main site featuring college girls in the nude derives most of its income from selling pictures of its models to other sites, including some featuring “scary hairy” girls, sexually explicit poses and pregnant women. If a site representative likes the look of one of the girls based on her “test shots,” that person will order up more of her photos or ask Pauling to do another session. The News & Review has decided not to give the exact Web address of the site out of concern for the models who didn’t expect to be exposed in a small-town environment.
Earlier this year, another young woman went to Chico police claiming Pauling had used her photos without her permission. But Lt. John Carrillo said a visit to Pauling’s studio found only that the neighborhood wasn’t properly zoned for that kind of high-traffic work. “We are very concerned about it, but it’s photographs that are taken with consent,” Carrillo said. “He seems to be following all the guidelines.”
Rogers said Pauling presented the business much differently.
“I made it very clear to him that I do not want a lot of people seeing these pictures,” she said in an interview, reiterating the claims stated in the suit. Pauling, she said, showed her artistic photos he’d taken for a class at Butte College—nothing sexually explicit.
The possibility of earning the $200 to $5,000 stated in Pauling’s Enterprise-Record ad interested Rogers, but also, she said, “I’m totally comfortable with being nude as long as it’s done in a tasteful manner.”
She said it’s the “trashy and vulgar” context in which her pictures were used that was traumatizing to her. She learned she was on the site after people from her hometown started calling and word got around the university. “[They were] ridiculing me, calling me a porn star,” said the Danville native. “People started writing stuff on my car and harassing me in the dorms.”
Pauling said everyone he photographs signs a model release, and even though he thinks he temporarily misplaced one signed by Rogers, he believes he has a strong legal defense without one.
Pauling sent the News & Review scanned copies of Rogers’ driver’s license and her name and address on Web site member registration records—which he said proves she knew how her pictures could be used. “They’re shown my Web site,” Pauling said. “I say, ‘What do you think about the fact that there might be some guy on the other end of a computer screen masturbating to your photos?'”
Earley said his client has been consistent in her statements and he has “no doubt” she’s telling the truth. “I don’t file lawsuits lightly.”
“She definitely did not sign a model release,” he said. “She’s not planning on recanting, and I’m not planning on dismissing.”
Pauling, who in January filed for bankruptcy, said some young women have had second thoughts after posing, and he’s even removed a couple of photos after their families got upset. He said if the suit isn’t dropped, he’ll sue for malicious prosecution. A few weeks ago, he relocated to San Diego to continue his business there.
Pauling said splitting the proceeds 50-50 has earned Chico models $120,000.
He referred the News & Review to three models who would vouch for him. One woman who first posed last summer made about $1,000 and said her husband went along for the shoot and they both found it fun and exciting. A 22-year-old Chico State student said, “There’s lots of girls who make good money off of this in college. … We would laugh and have fun and it wasn’t invasive or pushy at all.” Her 25-year-old friend called Pauling “a good person” and “extremely respectful. … He doesn’t treat you like he’s your pimp or anything.” Both said they’ve earned thousands of dollars by posing nude or simulating girl-on-girl sex. All three said they were fine with being online but didn’t want their names known in Chico circles.
Rogers said her family has been open-minded and supportive of her. "I had no shame in what I had done, or what I thought I had been doing," she said. "I don’t want this to happen to other girls. … The fact that I let someone con me really upsets me."