FAIR LAWN, N.J. (AP) — When MaryAnn Sahoury agreed to appear with her month-old daughter in a breast-feeding instructional video, she saw an opportunity to help women who had trouble getting their babies to nurse.
Instead, Sahoury found herself in a nightmarish situation: Someone took the footage of Sahoury nursing her daughter and spliced it with pornography posted on the Internet.
"It was terrifying," Sahoury told The Associated Press.
Last week, a federal court judge in New Jersey ruled that a lawsuit Sahoury filed against Meredith Corp., an Iowa-based media and marketing company that shot and produced the video for Parents TV, could proceed.
The lawsuit claims Sahoury was verbally assured her full name would not be used in the video; instead, it displayed Sahoury's full name on screen, the suit said. Meredith claims Sahoury signed a release on behalf of herself and her daughter allowing the company to use their "image, voice and name."
"While Meredith is not responsible for this," the Des Moines-based company said in a statement, "we deeply regret that this has occurred to Ms. Sahoury and her family."
When her daughter was born in December 2009, Sahoury had trouble nursing and used a lactation consultant. The following month the consultant asked Sahoury if she wanted to appear in an instructional video to talk about her breast-feeding experiences and demonstrate nursing techniques. Sahoury agreed because she wanted to help other women overcome their fears about breast-feeding.
"I didn't get paid to do this. I didn't want to be some sort of celebrity," said Sahoury, 35. "I did this to help other moms."
Sahoury said she was asked to sign a piece of paper while she was leaving the shoot with the baby. She admits to not reading the document and said she believed it backed up the assertion that her full name would not be used.
In July 2010, Sahoury — who had not yet seen the video — Googled herself. She was shocked by what she saw: numerous links to pornographic sites and videos containing her name. She clicked on one and saw the video edited to include a woman with "similar features and stature" performing sex acts. Sahoury then Googled her infant daughter's name, and the search returned pornographic links.
The lawsuit claims the video was posted on YouTube, when Sahoury was told it would only appear on Parents TV and cable. The video has since been removed from all Meredith properties, including Parents TV, and YouTube, the company said.
The lawsuit also states a video filmed with another woman that day did not use her full name.
The suit seeks an order prohibiting Meredith from using the video featuring her and her daughter for any purpose; it also seeks attorney fees.
Sahoury said the emotional toll was immense. She described spending days and nights sitting on her couch, searching the Internet trying to identify and report websites. She was successful at removing some and believes she found the perpetrator, the lawsuit states, but was unable to shut him down.
Meredith initially "exhibited a sense of urgency and a willingness" to help Sahoury, the suit said, sending her daily updates on where the video was being shown and what got shut down. The suit claims the company's "interest in attempting to mitigate the damage" started to wane. Sahoury then sued.
In a statement, Meredith said it is "appalled" that the video was misused and it has hired lawyers to file take-down demands and Internet specialists to clear online caches and has helped improve Sahoury's online reputation. It continues to provide the services, the statement said.
"We are confident that the steps we have taken are helping to mitigate the issue," the statement said. "We have taken these actions even though Ms. Sahoury signed a full release for herself and her daughter."
Sahoury said she hopes her situation leads to a greater awareness of Internet safety and exploitation and increased protections for breast-feeding mothers.
"Sometimes I want to crawl into bed and say, 'God I wish it wasn't me,' but it was me for a reason," she said. "I need to be as strong as I was when I made the video and say, look, I'm still supporting mothers everywhere, our rights to breast-feed wherever and whenever we want and not be exploited by major corporations or any kind of perverts."
Associated Press Researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.
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