A prominent interior designer was hired by defendant design company to be its marketing director. As part of her job, she created a blog for her new employer. When the designer was hospitalized after being seriously injured during a work-related errand, the company began posting and tweeting through her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, and continued to do so even after the designer asked her employer to stop. The designer sued, claiming false endorsement under the Lanham Act and violation of Illinois' Right of Publicity statute. False endorsement under the Lanham Act occurs when a person's identity is connected with a product or service in such a way that consumers are likely to be misled about a person's sponsorship or approval of the product or service. Illinois' Right of Publicity statute prohibits use of an individual's identity for commercial purposes during the individual's lifetime without their consent. The company filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. The court denied defendant's motion, finding that the designer had sufficiently alleged a false endorsement claim based on defendant's deceptive use of her name and likeness and that she had sufficiently alleged a violation of her right of publicity based on defendant's invading her interest by repeatedly impersonating her in multiple posts and tweets.
TIP: Companies that engage their employees to use social networking tools as part of their jobs should take care to draw a line between work-related and personal accounts, and should urge employees to engage in all work-related activities on work blogs, rather than personal accounts. They should also consider obtaining consent from the employee to continue important work-related online activities on the employee's behalf in the event the employee is unavailable.