Paparazzi snap a photo of a public figure using a product.  The photo is posted online.  The company who produces the product tweets the photo, excited to show a well-known person uses its product.  Does the public figure have a legitimate claim that his or her right of publicity has been violated?  Katherine Heigl hopes the answer is yes.

About a month ago, the popular New York drugstore Duane Reed tweeted a photo of Heigl leaving one of its stores with a couple of shopping bags in tow.  The photo was accompanied by the following text: “Love a quick #DuaneReed run? Even @KatieHeigl can’t resist shopping #NYC’s favorite drugstore.”  The tweet also linked to the celebrity gossip site that originally shared the paparazzi photo.  Last week, Heigl filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging Duane Reed violated the Lanham Act, New York’s unfair competition law, and Sections 50 and 51 of New York Civil Rights Law, which protect the rights of privacy and publicity.  Further, the complaint asks the court to award Heigl $6 million in damages.

Much of the complaint is dedicated to establishing Heigl’s star power and screen shots of Duane Reed’s twitter page.  However, in discussing the laws that were allegedly violated, Heigl claims that the Duane Reed tweet caused her “economic and reputational injury” and “deprived [Heigl] of her valuable right to select what endorsements to grant.”  This claim will force the court to consider whether a tweet of a candid, paparazzi photo implicates a celebrity’s right to publicity.  Additionally, the complaint alleges that Duane Reed violated unfair competition law by intentionally misleading consumers or causing a likelihood of confusion by associating Heigl’s image with its stores.  So, would the average consumer viewing the tweeted photo believe that Heigl is endorsing the store?  Celebrities are often photographed in candid situations using certain products or services and companies are eager to reach out to potential consumers through social media.  Thus, the providers of such products and services  are sure to pay close attention to the outcome of this lawsuit.

Kimberly Smith

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One Response to Heigl v. Duane Reed: A Battle for Publicity

  1. Samantha says:

    Very interesting! This case could have far reaching effects…it will be interesting to see how it turns out!