Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Chipotle Sued for $2.2 Billion Over Pic of Woman Eating Chipotle

People say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but according to one Sacramento woman, her picture is apparently worth $2.2 billion. In her recently filed lawsuit against Chipotle, she is seeking the $2.2 billion due to the burrito behemoth's use of an unauthorized photograph of her on in-store displays.

The lawsuit alleges that the woman was photographed while eating alone in a practically empty Chipotle restaurant in 2006. However, the woman did not file her case until more than two years after she discovered her photo was hanging in a Chipotle's restaurant in December 2014, which could present a statute of limitations problem.

Shame and Loathing in Chipotle

The woman is claiming that her eating alone in a Chipotle is a private activity, to which she should enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. Additionally, the photographer is alleged to have requested that she sign a release so that the photo could be used, but that the woman refused to sign the release. Furthermore, it is alleged that the woman was upset that her photo was taken, and was unaware of the fact that it was done until she was asked to sign the release.

While many people might be embarrassed to be caught eating in a Chipotle these days, particularly after all the food-borne illness scares in recent years, it is a near certainty this lawsuit will not end with a billion dollar verdict, nor settlement. But despite the comically large request for damages, the wrongly photographed woman may actually have a cognizable case.

Copyrights, Likeness Rights, Ridiculous Fights

While photographers own the copyrights to the images they capture, that does not mean that they can just go ahead and publish images of individuals without permission. Although there is no federal protection, under most state's laws, an individual has the right to control the use of their likeness, or image.

Controlling one's likeness rights can help an individual prevent an unflattering photograph from being sold and distributed. Unfortunately for celebrities, and those caught in the media's focus like a deer in headlights for doing something stupid or wrong, if the photograph is considered newsworthy, then likeness rights may not apply.

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