Julia Child's estate served up a lawsuit against Airbnb after the company ran a contest invoking the famous chef's name.
According to the California state court complaint, the short-term rental service reached out to the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts in April, requesting to use her name for an upcoming contest. Honoring Child's famous refusal to allow her name or image to be used to market or sell commercial products, the Foundation (which owns all of Child's rights of publicity) declined the opportunity.
Notwithstanding the lack of permission, Airbnb and its public relations agency then engaged "in a broad marketing and promotional campaign," prominently using Child's name for an online contest to win a free night at the "Former Julia Child Home," the Foundation alleged. The contest promoted both the Airbnb brand and business, as well as the rental of a property in France from which Airbnb benefitted financially, the suit added.
The defendants used Child's name, identity, and persona on Airbnb's website, social media, and in an email blast sent to an extensive mailing list, the complaint said. Both the title and email message stated that Airbnb was giving away a free night at the "former home of Julia Child in Provence, France," where contest participants could "imagine walking the halls of Julia Child's former home," "combing over the knick knacks in her kitchen exactly as she left them," and "channeling the culinary genius of Julia Child."
Not only did the defendants misappropriate the name and likeness of Julia Child, but they also got the facts wrong, the Foundation alleged. Child and her husband stayed at the La Pitchoune cottage at various times throughout their lives, but they never owned the property, and when Child returned the keys to the owners in 1992, she removed her kitchen tools and other personal belongings.
Emphasizing Child's steadfast refusal to take part in commercial opportunities, the complaint requested a preliminary and permanent injunction against the defendants to prohibit any further commercial use of her name, identity, or persona. In addition, the Foundation requested damages for the misappropriation of Child's right of publicity under California law, including punitive and exemplary damages for the defendants' allegedly "willful and deliberate" actions.
To read the complaint in The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts v. Airbnb, click here.
Why it matters: The lawsuit provides an important reminder about the dangers of using a celebrity's name or image without permission, whether dead or alive. In the case of Julia Child, the Foundation that owns her intellectual property rights emphasized that despite the "tremendous commercial value" of her name, photograph, and likeness—particularly associated with food, cooking and the culinary arts, and travel and leisure—she refused throughout her entire 40-year career to market or sell commercial products, instead focusing on public education. The commercial rights sought by Airbnb "have never been granted before by either Mrs. Child or The Julia Child Foundation," according to the complaint.