Avvo’s Attorney Profile Pages Don’t Violate Publicity Rights–Vrdolyak v. Avvo

7 02 2017

Publicity right laws often prohibit the use of third parties’ names (or other aspects of their personalities) “for commercial purposes.” So what’s a “commercial purpose”? Fuck if I know. We might make the term coextensive with the Constitutional law definition of “commercial speech,” but that provides precisely zero help because there are multiple inconsistent definitions of that term too. Because no one really knows the commerciality borders for publicity rights (or any other) laws, defendants sometimes struggle to get quick courtroom wins in publicity rights cases, even when they publish obviously editorial content.

Against this backdrop, Avvo scored a nifty early victory in a case challenging its attorney profiles. Avvo creates the profiles without consent from the profiled attorneys, and then displays advertising on the profiles and uses them to upsell Avvo memberships.

Case citation: Vrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-02833 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 12, 2016). The initial complaint (Bernstein v. Avvo).



The content in this post was found at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2016/09/avvos-attorney-profile-pages-dont-violate-publicity-rights-vrdolyak-v-avvo.htm and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.

Adding Derogatory Caption to Photo Meme Can Be False Light–S.E. v. Chmerkovskiy

7 02 2017

S.E. has Down Syndrome. The complaint alleges that in 2008, S.E. attended a baseball game (at the age of 8) in Nashville and was photographed standing outside the stadium near a concession stand. The photographer posted the photo to his Twitter account with the caption “everything that’s wrong with America.” The photo became a meme. In 2014, it was posted to CBS News’ website. A few years later (in 2016), Valentin Chmerkovisky (the “Dancing with the Stars” pro) posted the meme to his Facebook page with the following caption:

Letting your kid become obese should be considered child abuse.

The photo has been viewed by many of Chmerkovskiy’s “quarter million” followers on Facebook. Chmerkovskiy later posted the following statement:

I’m truly sorry for the lack of sensitivity . . . but one some level I have to agree . . . You’re handicapping your kid, and they’re defenseless. They don’t know better, that’s why you’re there . . . anyway I’m just a childless preacher, but here’s some food for thought. #nopunintended.

While unclear, it appears he posted this statement after S.E.’s mom complained to him and asked him to take down the photo.

Case citation: SE v. Chmerkovskiy, 2016 US Dist LEXIS 159471 (M.D. Tenn. Nov. 17, 2016)



The content in this post was found at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2016/11/adding-derogatory-caption-to-photo-meme-can-be-false-light-s-e-v-chmerkovskiy.htm and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.

“Kurt The CyberGuy” Loses Publicity Rights Claims Against TV Station–CyberGuy v. KTLA

4 02 2017

Knutsson was a technology reporter and creator of the “CyberGuy” persona. He worked for TV station KTLA between 1996 and 2011. In 2005, he entered into an agreement with KTLA to be paid an annual salary of $325,000 a year plus annual increases. [Note to self: try to find side gig as a tech television reporter.]

The agreement gave KTLA ownership over Knutsson’s work and gave KTLA the “unlimited right . . . to exploit the programs, recordings or any portions thereof” in any manner and by any method and in all media. The agreement broadly allowed KTLA to use CyberGuy’s content

in all forms of reproduction, transmission, exhibition, display, and presentation, including television, theaters, . . . libraries, devices marketed for the home . . . books, periodicals, wireless, internet uses and all other types of exploitation now existing or hereafter devised.

The agreement allowed KTLA to edit, rearrange, and otherwise modify the work. It also allowed KTLA to license CyberGuy material up- and down-stream to other stations owned by KTLA’s parent entities. A provision in the agreement said the content would be distributed under the “CyberGuy” brand. It allowed Knutsson to distribute the materials in two particular cities with the caveat that, if KTLA’s parent acquired a station in either city, the parent would have the exclusive right to air the material in the particular market.

The agreement contained two restrictions. First, it said that KTLA could not use Knutsson’s name and likeness as an endorsement. Second, it said that nothing in the agreement gave KTLA “ownership in the CyberGuy designation used by [Knutsson].”

KTLA severed its relationship several years into the last renewal and employed a new tech reporter. After the termination, the CyberGuy material continued to be published on the KTLA sites and sites for KTLA’s affiliated entities. Knutsson’s lawyer sent a cease and desist letter, and Tribune undertook steps to remove some (but not all) links to Knutsson’s content. Apparently, the links to content were removed from the main site but not from permalinks. Knutsson filed suit, alleging among other things, violation of his publicity rights. (He also asserted employment claims, but those were not a part of this appeal). The trial court denied defendants’ request to dismiss the publicity rights claims. On a request for a writ of mandate, the appeals court grants relief to the defendants and directs the trial court to dismiss the claims.


Citation: Local TV, LLC v. Superior Court, B271883 (Ca. Ct. App. Sept 2, 2016) [pdf]

The content in this post was found at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2016/09/kurt-the-cyberguy-loses-publicity-rights-claims-against-tv-station-cyberguy-v-ktla.htm and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.

Apple sued over singer’s right of publicity in iPhone ad singing

29 01 2017
An iPhone ad featuring the Jamie xx song “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is the subject of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in California Superior Court.

The plaintiff’s convoluted connection to Apple is laid out by The Hollywood Reporter, which was first to report the case. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is the most popular track on Jamie xx’s 2015 Grammy-nominated album In Colors. That album includes samples from a 1971 song by The Persuasions called “Good Times.”

Persuasions lead singer Jerome Lawson is the plaintiff in the new suit against Apple—but this isn’t a copyright case. Rather, Lawson has said that the use of his voice in the ad violates his right of publicity under California state law.


The content in this post was found at http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/BAaf and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.

Actress in Viral Video Can’t Prevent Video From Being Made Into an Advertisement–Roberts v. Bliss

27 01 2017

Bliss produced a viral video called “10 Hours Walking in NYC as a Woman” featuring actress Shoshana Roberts. You probably saw this video when it came out; it has been viewed over 40M times. The video shows how random strangers constantly comment on Roberts’ looks as she walks around NYC. For reasons not specified in the opinion, Bliss didn’t get a written release from Roberts, and she claims he orally promised to pay her if the video succeeded (which it did, but still he didn’t pay). She also claims she made editorial contributions to the video, such as “actively assist[ing] Bliss in deciding how and where to walk, and how to film without the camera being noticed.”

Sadly, the video’s success induced Bliss to sell out; he licensed the video so TGI Fridays could make an ad. The ad uses the NYC settings and the mens’ catcalls, but digitally replaces Roberts with images of french fries and mozzarella sticks that appear to be the target of the mens’ catcalls. The court says: “Because of the superimposition of the giant appetizers, Roberts is not pictured or represented in the ad at all.” (The parties dispute whether Roberts is completely replaced; she claims that some versions showed her hands or feet, but the court says that wouldn’t change the analysis). Here is the 15 second version of the video (there was also a 30 second version that I haven’t yet found):


Case citation: Roberts v. Bliss, 2017 WL 354186 (SDNY Jan. 24, 2017). Roberts’ statement about the lawsuit.

The content in this post was found at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2017/01/actress-in-viral-video-cant-prevent-video-from-being-made-into-an-advertisement-roberts-v-bliss.htm and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.