Shields’ brows brook no exploitation, says complaint

Iconic What?

In a recent lawsuit, Brooke Shields, the famed child-actor-turned-model-turned-movie-and-TV-mainstay, cites one of the most oddly specific articles in the history of journalism: “17 Times Brooke Shields’s Eyebrows Were the Best Thing in the Room.”

It must have been a slow day at Vogue. The June 2016 article consists of one sentence ‒ “In celebration of her birthday on May 31, we’re taking a look back at those iconic brow moments” ‒ and 17 photographs of Shields’ eyebrows doing their thing. Arching, furrowing, dating Michael Jackson.

Why 17 times? What rooms were they in? Was it all the same room? How do we know they were the best thing in the room? How do we know they weren’t the only thing in the room?

Stare at Brooke’s brows long enough, though, and the effect is mesmerizing. You start to get it. They’re superb; they frame her uncanny, wide-set eyes and thousand-watt smile like a perfectly designed picture frame.

They really are something.

Respect

And now, they’re the subject of a right to publicity lawsuit.

Shields is suing makeup maven Charlotte Tilbury’s eponymous cosmetics brand and a passel of retailers including Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman for attempting “to capitalize on Shields’s iconic eyebrows.” The offending product is a “Three-Way Eyebrow Pencil Tool” named the “Brooke S.”

“Tilbury neither consulted Shields regarding a collaboration nor requested permission to use Shields’s name in selling its makeup,” the suit claims. Tilbury does seem to have a penchant for celebrity-inspired names, including products named “Naomi,” “Kim KW” and the “Secret Salma.” (We’re not sure if Ms. Campbell, Ms. Kardashian-West or Ms. Hayek are planning their own lawsuits.)

And let’s give Shields credit. As wonderfully silly as an eyebrow-based lawsuit sounds, it’s clear that she takes her brows quite seriously. And she should. They’ve been celebrated countless times as part of her iconic look. And there’s money at stake, too.

As part of her claim, she outlines a 2014 collaboration with MAC cosmetics, which celebrated her look in its Icon collection. “Shields spent approximately two years working with MAC to develop the collection, which includes eyebrow-enhancing products such as the eyebrow pencil named Veluxe Brow Liner,” the suit reads. “Shields has not endorsed any cosmetics products since her cosmetics line with MAC was released.”

The Takeaway

For Shields, the time and resources she’s invested in monetizing her look are in jeopardy. She’s seeking injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and disgorgement of profits for violations of her right to publicity under California and common law.

We’ve covered cases of homage gone wrong a number of times, including suits related to Muhammad Ali and Steve McQueen (not once, but twice). Homage is sticky territory for ad men and women, because even the seemingly insignificant act of naming an eyebrow pencil after a favorite fashionista can lead to legal action.

Don’t let your enthusiasm for a beloved icon get the better of you, even when it comes to the most innocuous branding and marketing decisions. There are many rights of publicity cases that have held that merely conjuring the identity of a celebrity in an ad without the person’s consent is a commercial appropriation of the celebrity’s rights to publicity. Indeed, what other purpose does the advertiser have in doing so other than to bask in the light of the celeb? For a detailed breakdown of these cases and guidance on how to avoid claims, click here.