Pattishall IP Blog

August 8, 2012

What Do Kim Kardashian And Your Random Facebook Friend Have in Common? A Right of Publicity That May Be Worth Money

Filed under: Internet, Litigation, Right of Publicity, Social Media — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:44 pm

By Meg C. Lenahan, Summer Associate

Use Facebook? If so, did you know that your right of publicity has been at the center of litigation for over a year?

In March 2011, a class action suit, Fraley v. Facebook, Inc., was filed on behalf of users featured in Facebook’s Sponsored Stories.[1] Sponsored Stories create customized paid advertisements, starring Facebook’s own users based their activity on the site. For example, if your friend Bucky “likes” Rosetta Stone, you might see his profile picture underneath the Rosetta Stone logo on the right side of the page—the portion of the site where advertisements appear.  See below.[2]

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, described the feature—which originally gave users a choice to opt out (rather than opt in)—as a “trusted referral” and “the Holy Grail of advertising.”[3] In their complaint, the named plaintiffs in Fraley instead described it as a violation of their publicity rights.[4]

Governed by state law, the right of publicity is an intellectual property right that protects against the unauthorized use of an individual’s identity for commercial purposes and grants that individual the exclusive right to control and profit from commercial use of his or her identity.[5] This means, for example, that Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has the exclusive right to control and profit from any sales of custom-made American flag grills[6] using his image or that Kim Kardashian has the exclusive right to control and profit from use of her name to sell perfume. Even your friend Bucky would have an exclusive right to control and profit from use of his identity in connection with Rosetta Stone advertisements. That is, of course, unless Bucky licensed or transferred his right of publicity to someone else—someone like Facebook. (more…)

July 25, 2012

Who owns a trademark? Jeremy Lin wins Linsanity, as Anthony Davis fights for his unibrow.

Filed under: Licensing, Right of Publicity, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:38 am

By Paul A. Borovay, Summer Associate

THREE-PEAT is a well-known term that refers to a sports team’s third consecutive championship.[1] Byron Scott, an ex-Los Angeles Laker, coined the term after his team won its second consecutive NBA championship in 1988.[2] Unfortunately, Scott could not profit from licensing the term to apparel companies, advertising agencies, or sports teams. Why? Scott did not try to establish rights in the term THREE-PEAT, either through registration or use. Scott likely did not see the value in trademark licensing at the time, but his coach, Pat Riley, saw an opportunity and obtained a trademark registration for the term in November 1988. Even though Scott coined the term “Three-peat,” Riley is the one that has been earning royalties from use of the trademark.

The arena of sports provides a ripe field for coining catchphrases such as “three-peat,” as well as terms that incorporate the names and likenesses of the superstar athletes themselves. Understanding who owns a trademark that incorporates the name or likeness of one of these individuals requires understanding the basics of two distinct bodies of law: trademark and the right of publicity.

Celebrities can obtain trademark rights for catchphrases associated with them by using the marks in commerce in connection with a specific good or service. Celebrities can also obtain state registrations for their marks, or simply own common law rights without a registration after using the marks in commerce. Filing for a registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is important and will often trump later applications, except for a few exceptions that are discussed later in this article.

Under the protections afforded through state right of publicity statutes, a celebrity is protected against commercial loss caused when someone appropriates their name or likeness. The celebrity does not have to have used the catchphrase in commerce, nor would the celebrity have to use the catchphrase in the future, as the right of publicity protects celebrities’ entire persona from commercial exploitation. For example, Michael Jordan would have a right of publicity claim against a car wash company that used his photograph to promote its business. While the photograph may not be protected under trademark law, the right of publicity prohibits any unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s name or likeness.

Two recent trademarks surrounding basketball players Jeremy Lin and Anthony Davis illustrate the delicate balance between trademark law, the right of publicity, and the person who coins the catchphrase’s rights to his or her creation. (more…)

January 5, 2012

Using An Employee’s Personal Social Media Accounts Without Her Authorization To Market Employer May Create Liability Under Trademark And Electronic Privacy Laws

Filed under: Advertising, Litigation, Right of Publicity, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:55 am

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

We’ve all been taught that our work e-mail and social media accounts are owned by our employers, so watch what you say and realize that you have no expectation of privacy in those accounts.  But what happens when an employee uses a personal account to promote her employer?  According to one court, the employer’s use of these accounts without the employee’s authorization can lead to liability under the Lanham Act and the Stored Communications Act. Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd., Case No. 10 C 7811 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 7, 2011).[1]

The plaintiff, Jill Maremont, was the Director of Marketing, Public Relations, and E-commerce for the defendant Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd. (SFDG), a prominent interior design firm based in Chicago.  As part of a social media marketing campaign for SFDG, Maremont created a blog on SFDG’s website.  She also promoted SFDG through her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts., including by linking to the SFDG website and blog.  She entered and stored all account access information, including passwords for her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, on the SFDG server.  She never gave authority to anyone to access her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. Maremont’s compensation was, in part, based on the overall sales of SFDG, so she had every incentive to promote SFDG.

After suffering a serious accident, Maremont could not work for some time and SFDG decided to continue posting to Maremont’s personal accounts to promote SFDG.  Once she found out, Maremont asked SFDG to stop – but SFDG did not.  After some back and forth about Maremont returning to work for SFDG, she went to another company and sued SFDG over the use of her social media accounts.  (more…)

March 31, 2011

Amending a Washington State Statute to Ignore Choice of Law Principles Could Not Gain Jimi Hendrix’s Heirs a Post-Mortem Right of Publicity: Court Rules Amendment Unconstitutional

Filed under: Constitution, Litigation, Right of Publicity — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 2:14 pm

Categories: Constitution, Right of Publicity, Litigation
Tags: Right of Publicity, Federal Litigation, Conflict of Laws, Phillip Barengolts

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

Jimi Hendrix died before his time in a London hotel room in 1970.  His legend lives on.[1] But his right of publicity appears to have died with him.

Right of publicity generally developed out of the right of privacy and is entirely governed by state law, which varies from state to state.  A post-mortem right to publicity is only available in some states.  States with many deceased celebrities or very famous deceased celebrities often want to give their constituents the greatest economic advantage they can in exploiting post-mortem rights, predominantly in the area of merchandising.  Such was the case in Washington state, the birthplace of Hendrix.

Despite the best efforts of his father, the sole heir of Hendrix’s estate, and the company to which Hendrix’s father assigned all of his rights, Experience Hendrix LLC, Hendrix’s right of publicity likely cannot be resurrected because New York – Hendrix’s place of domicile at the time of his death – did not have a post-mortem right of publicity.  See Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. v. The James Marshall Hendrix Foundation, No. C03-3462Z (W.D. Wash., Apr. 15, 2005), aff’d, 240 Fed. Appx. 739 (9th Cir. 2007). (more…)

April 13, 2010

Pattishall Attorneys Win Summary Judgment for The John W. Carson Foundation, Defeating Application for HERE’S JOHNNY as Trademark for Portable Toilets

Filed under: Pattishall, Right of Publicity — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 5:16 pm

by David Beeman, Attorney

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) awarded summary judgment to Johnny Carson’s The John W. Carson Foundation in its opposition to Toilets.com’s application to register HERE’S JOHNNY as a trademark for portable toilets in the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”).  The John W. Carson Foundation v. Toilets.com, Inc., Opposition No. 91181092 (T.T.A.B. Mar. 25, 2009).[1] Pattishall attorneys Robert Newbury, Jonathan S. Jennings, Phillip Barengolts and David Beeman represented The John W. Carson Foundation in the action. (more…)

September 21, 2009

Ninth Circuit Rules That Paris Hilton May Proceed with Her Right of Publicity Claim Despite Hallmark’s Free Speech Challenge

Filed under: First Amendment, Right of Publicity — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 8:35 pm

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

Companies must be careful when considering the use of a person’s image, likeness or other identifying material for commercial purposes without that person’s permission because many states protect a person’s “right of publicity” through statute or the common law.  Thus, unauthorized use can result in liability for damages.

California in particular has a long history of protecting celebrities’ commercial publicity rights.  It also has codified its citizen’s right to be free from meritless lawsuits filed merely to chill their First Amendment rights so that they may comment upon matters of public interest.  These two rights came into conflict when Hallmark decided to use Paris Hilton’s face and her catch-phrase “That’s hot” on one of its birthday cards – shown below.  The inside of the card reads, “Have a smokin’ hot birthday.”

(more…)

January 23, 2009

Chicago Trademark Attorney weighs in on Sasha and Malia Dolls

Filed under: Right of Publicity — Tags: — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 6:18 pm

Phil Barengolts discusses the Sasha and Malia Obama Dolls, made by Ty Inc., from a right of publicity perspective. The article appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business (click here to view the article) on Thursday, January 22, 2009. . Reference to this article also appears in the Top 10 Stories of the Week (distributed on January 23, 2009) by ABA Journal Law News Now.

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