Can Celebrities Sue Over Look-Alikes?

3D illustration of a folder, focus on a tab with the word infringement. Conceptual image of copyright law
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 06, 2019 8:30 AM

If you're going to get a pop star to rep your clothing store, Ariana Grande is not a bad choice. But if those talks fall through, hiring a "strikingly similar" model to take her place might be. Grande is suing Forever 21 for $10 million after she claims the company used a model for a social media campaign who wore the same hairstyle and hair accessory she did in her "7 Rings" video, dressed in a top she's been photographed sporting, and struck a pose for which the singer is known.

Celebrities (just like us!) have the sole commercial rights to their likenesses. But can they block companies from using look-alikenesses?

Black Cloud Over Ad Campaign

According to Grande's lawsuit, talks of an official endorsement deal "never came to fruition because the amounts that Forever 21 offered to pay for the right to use Ms. Grande's name and likeness were insufficient for an artist of her stature." That's when Forever 21 allegedly went an even cheaper route:

"Rather than pay for that right as the law requires, Defendants simply stole it by launching a misleading campaign across its website and social media platforms primarily in January and February 2019. The campaign capitalized on the concurrent success of Ms. Grande's album 'Thank U, Next' by publishing at least 30 unauthorized images and videos misappropriating Ms. Grande's name, image, likeness, and music in order to create the false perception of her endorsement."

The suit even claims audio from "7 Rings" plays over at least one post, along with captions containing the song's lyrics. Grande claims the company violated California's right of publicity statute, which prohibits anyone from knowingly using another person's "name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods, or services, without such person's prior consent." The lawsuit also alleges false advertising along with trademark and copyright infringement claims.

Pots and Kettles

The use of look-alikes -- and lawsuits in response -- are nothing new. George Clooney sued Israeli coffee maker Espresso Club for using a Clooney clone in ads, and Kim Kardashian filed and then settled claims that Old Navy used a look-alike in an ad campaign.

One fly in Grande's likeness lawsuit ointment? Drag queen Farrah Moan, who accused Grande of lifting the same look she's suing Forever 21 over, tweeting, "her team literally sent a pic of me to the designer and paid them to copy my look."

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