The picture of a handsome, uniformed soldier accompanying online ads that proclaim "Military Man Searching for Love" is an Army lieutenant who was killed in Iraq in 2007, according to a lawsuit filed by his parents Monday against two dating websites.
The parents of Army Lt. Peter Burks have sued PlentyofFish.com and True.com, alleging the companies used their son's photo in ads without their permission, benefitted financially and misled the public. The suit filed Monday in state district court in Dallas seeks a jury trial for compensatory and punitive damages.
Alan Burks said the photo was taken days before his 26-year-old son was killed in Baghdad in late 2007 and is on the website of the family's Unsung Hero Fund, which provides supplies to troops in war zones as a tribute to Peter Burks.
In December, a friend recognized Peter Burks in an ad on PlentyofFish.com, clicked on it and was directed to True.com, Alan Burks said. He said his son was engaged at the time of his death, so the idea that he was trying to meet women online as the ad portrays "couldn't be more wrong."
"I felt horrified, disgusted. It upset me," Alan Burks, who lives in Dallas, told The Associated Press on Monday.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based PlentyofFish Media spokesman Paul Bloudoff said the company didn't advertise online in the U.S. in December. He said hundreds of thousands of third parties advertise via his company's site every month, and that it cannot control nor know about the content of those ads.
Even so, the ad has been blocked from the company's network, he said.
"We dealt with this matter a month ago," Bloudoff said in an email. "In our opinion, this case should not have been filed."
True.com President Ruben Buell said Monday that he hasn't seen the lawsuit but "will be researching this diligently." He said the Dallas-based company, whose official business name is True Beginnings LLC, buys ads that run on other dating websites but does not know what happened in this situation.
"I certainly feel for his family," Buell said Monday.
PlentyofFish Media did not say how long the ads — including one with Peter Burks' photo that said "Soldiers Want You!" — ran or how his photo was obtained, said Rogge Dunn, the attorney who filed the suit. In addition to emotional suffering, his parents have also suffered financial damages because, since his death, they have legal control over his image and never authorized any photos to be used to endorse these sites, Dunn said.
Alan Burks said he plans to donate any money awarded in the suit to military charities.
"For me, this is making sure that the honor and legacy of Peter is protected," he said. "But also it concerns me that they would use the likeness of a live soldier or someone else."