Actress Katherine Heigl filed a lawsuit against New York-based pharmacy chain Duane Reade over its unauthorized use of her name and likeness on its Twitter and Facebook accounts. According to the complaint, Duane Reade tweeted a candid photo of Heigl apparently leaving a Duane Reade store in New York City carrying two Duane Reade shopping bags. The tweet read, “Love a quick #DuaneReade run? Even @KatieHeigl can’t resist shopping #NYC’s favorite drugstore.” Duane Reade also posted the same photograph to its photo album on its Facebook page with a similar comment. Heigl alleges that Duane Reade obtained the photograph from a celebrity news website specializing in paparazzi photographs.
Heigl’s lawsuit alleges that Duane Reade’s unauthorized use of her name and likeness to advertise its services constitutes a commercial use of her name and likeness in violation of Heigl’s right of privacy and publicity under New York law, as well as false endorsement under the Lanham Act and unfair competition. Heigl seeks $6 million in damages and her attorneys’ fees and costs. The complaint notes that all damages recovered in the lawsuit will be donated to the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, a charity in the name of her deceased brother that focuses on animal welfare.
TIP: The rules for use of social media by advertisers are still largely undefined, and it is unclear whether social media content posted by advertisers will be treated any differently than traditional advertising under the law. However, this complaint is a good reminder that advertisers should remain cautious about using a person’s name or likeness in social media without permission, particularly if such use could be viewed as an endorsement of the advertiser’s products or services by that person.