Negotiations between ElevenParis and the five A-Listers are underway…
If this were a music collab instead of a legal battle, it would be epic – Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Rihanna filed a joint lawsuit over use of their names, lyrics, and images on a slew of merchandise from the French label, ElevenParis.1 The lawsuit, filed on October 6 in New York Federal Court, seeks an injunction and compensation for past sales of the items including shirts, caps, backpacks and cellphone cases.2 The plaintiffs (Queen B, et al) accuse ElevenParis of “brazenly” selling merchandise featuring their likenesses without permission. The lawsuit said it was especially “egregious” that the items remained for sale at the ElevenParis boutique in Soho and that two T-shirts new to the market, which say “Kanye is my homie” and “Pharrell is my brotha.” The merchandise also includes images of all four celebrities wearing ski masks not dissimilar to Queen Bey’s famous “On the Run” tour costume. “Even after receiving warnings from plaintiffs … defendants continue to sell unauthorized products and to trade upon the goodwill associated with plaintiffs, all for defendants’ profit,” the lawsuit said. Although the merchandise concerned is no longer available on the website, the lawsuit claims its actions “have caused and are causing immediate irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. ElevenParis is also accused of using lyrics without authorization and choosing names for products that are almost identical to those of the artists, such as “Cayonce.” The lawsuit said that ElevenParis “purposefully use(s) marks that are confusingly similar to plaintiffs’ respective trademarks.”
The use of celebrities’ images falls into complicated legal terrain with individual US states, but not the US federal government which recognizes a “right to publicity” that allows a person to determine how he or she can be used for commercial purposes. In addition to claiming right of publicity violations (pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law § §50 and 51 – NY CLS Civ R § 50), and willful trademark infringement (pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1114), the 96-page lawsuit maintains unfair competition (pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1125(A)), and federal trademark dilution (pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1125(C)), as part of the suit, since all the plaintiffs have fashion collaborations and clothing lines of their own on the market. Among the fifty-eight claims were also deceptive acts and practices pursuant to New York general business law § 349, claiming that the use of the likeness of the celebrities will confuse the public into thinking that the plaintiffs authorized this merchandise.
Of course, this is not the first time celebrities have flied suit over unauthorized use of their likeness. This past January, Rihanna won her suit against British chain, Topshop, which used her image on a line of T-Shirts without her permission.3 Back on home territory, Comedy III Productions Inc. (the owner of the former comedy act, The Three Stooges) sued Gary Saderup, Inc, in 2001 for violation of Cal. Civ. Code § 990 and related business torts. Defendant artist created a lithograph of “The Three Stooges” and used it to make silk-screened T-shirts. The California Supreme Court held that there was no significant creative elements to transform the creation into something more than a mere celebrity likeness, so the right of publicity prevailed.4
Image: Eleven Paris items featuring Rihanna and Kanye West. Official case documents.
Kanye, Beyonce, Jay Z and More File Suit Against ElevenParis, The Fashion Law (Oct. 7, 2015), http://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/kanye-beyonce-jay-z-and-more-file-suit-against-elevenparis [http://perma.cc/MY4H-3HS3].↩
Knowles-Carter v. Eleven LLC, No. 1:15-cv-07890 (S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 6, 2015), available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2451255-beyonce.html [http://perma.cc/LPM8-68KX].↩
Pop star Rihanna wins image battle, BBC (Jan. 22, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-30932158 [http://perma.cc/4L7J-3RS9].↩
Comedy III Productions, Inc. v. Gary Saderup, Inc., 25 Cal. 4th 387, 106 Cal. Rptr. 2d 126, 21 P.3d 797 (2001).↩