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(Reuters) - A federal appeals court said a minority owner of the Miami Heat basketball team cannot stop a woman from running a scathingly critical blog featuring an unflattering photo of him with his tongue protruding askew from his mouth.
Raanan Katz, who is also a Florida real estate developer, had sought to stop Irina Chevaldina, a disgruntled former tenant in one of his shopping centers, from using the "ugly" and "embarrassing" photo, in which he held the copyright.
But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami on Thursday agreed with a lower court judge that Chevaldina made "fair use" of the photo to illustrate and communicate her beliefs about Katz, without trying to profit.
The photo was taken at a February 2011 basketball practice in Jerusalem, and published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Chevaldina found it through a Google image search.
A lawyer for Katz, Alan Kluger, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Chevaldina's lawyer, Michael Rosman, general counsel of The Center for Individual Rights, said the decision encourages free speech on blogs.
"People who go around trying to buy up bad pictures of themselves in the hope they can suppress them won't succeed," he said.
In a footnote, the appeals court said it made "no independent determination" about the photo, but for the sake of argument said "we accept Katz's own characterizations of the photo as aesthetically displeasing."
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis