Megastars George Clooney and Julia Roberts (“Plaintiffs”) recently joined forces to sue two audio-visual companies for the unauthorized use of their images in connection with the sale of audio-visual equipment. Clooney and Roberts allege that Digital Projection Inc., Beyond Audio Inc., and twenty unnamed individuals and/or entities (collectively, “Defendants”) “prominently used large photographs of Plaintiffs in Defendants’ advertising, marketing, and promotions including print advertisements…commercial websites…printed brochures, newsletters, and ‘e-mail blasts’ distributed to customers and prospective customers, and within Defendants’ large video displays at major international trade shows.”
The Plaintiffs dedicate four and a half pages of their 14-page complaint to an overview of their illustrious careers, listing their various movies, television shows, and awards. All this is done in an effort to show that the Plaintiffs have become worldwide brands that are “famous” and have “tremendous commercial value.”
The Plaintiffs allege that the prominent use of their images to sell commercial products amounts to a violation of their rights of privacy and publicity under California state law and the common law, as well as trademark and trade dress infringement under the federal Lanham Act. Finally, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants were negligent, as they owed a duty to the Plaintiffs not to use their publicity and privacy rights in advertisements or to create an association between the Plaintiffs and Defendants in order to sell commercial products.
In essence, the Plaintiffs argue that by using their images in commercial advertisements, the Defendants created a false association with the Plaintiffs, and/or an implication that the Plaintiffs approved, sponsored, or endorsed the Defendants’ products, all without seeking authorization from the Plaintiffs, or compensating the Plaintiffs for the use.
As a result, the Plaintiffs seek preliminary and permanent injunctions to stop the current and future use of their names, photographs, likenesses, images, voices, and signatures by the Defendants, as well as general and special damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees.
In an era where celebrities can earn millions in official endorsement deals, it comes as no surprise that celebrities like Clooney and Roberts are fighting back against the unauthorized use of their personas in commercial advertisements. This case, and others like it, shows that businesses should be very cautious before using a celebrity’s name, image, or likeness in a commercial advertisement.