The estate of Bette Davis filed suit against a California vintage clothing store alleging that it is violating the publicity rights of the late actress by selling a dress called the “B Davis Dress.”
The suit claims that Stop Staring! sells vintage clothing from the 1940s and 1950s, and names many of their period era dresses after iconic people from that time period, including other actors.
The “B Davis” dress is named after Bette Davis, the complaint alleges, and some of the retailers specifically refer to it as the Bette Davis Dress.
Arguing that the conduct of the store and its owners was wanton, willful, and malicious, the suit claims that the defendants “have an obvious pattern and course of conduct of this behavior.”
“[T]hey are selling dresses named after other iconic figures for which, on information and belief, [they] lack the appropriate licenses and rights of publicity. Defendants, recognizing that they lack such rights, often resort to minor typographical errors or other small changes to the respective celebrity’s name in order to benefit from the celebrity’s name in the sale of goods while seeking to avoid liability for the clear misappropriation of the celebrity’s right of publicity,” according to the complaint.
Noting that Davis “was a legendary film actress whose name, persona and likeness are still worth substantial sums of money in the marketplace,” the suit does not seek a specific amount of damages but asks for the cessation of sales, recall, and destruction of all B Davis dresses.
To read the complaint in CMG Brands v. Stop Staring! Designs, click here.
Why it matters: Over the last few decades, the courts have recognized an expanding definition of publicity rights for celebrities, from a ruling finding a “sound-alike” singer in a commercial violated Bette Midler’s rights to a ruling that a robot wearing a blonde wig, gown, and jewelry in front of a Wheel of Fortune-like stage infringed on Vanna White’s right of publicity. The Bette Davis suit poses a new question: can a dress violate a celebrity’s personality?