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Julia Child Foundation sues Williams-Sonoma

Did a major retailer really use the name and likeness of a famous person repeatedly, even naming a Contest after this person, without any prior approval or licensing?

From by 

Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, September 26 2013

Williams-Sonoma illegally used the name and likeness of the late Julia Child more than 100 times in advertising, marketing, and promotional materials for numerous commercial products, such as pots, pans, cookware, and kitchenware, according to a new suit filed by the Julia Child Foundation in California state court.

Throughout Child’s 40-year career, she “famously refused to allow her name or image to be used to market or sell commercial products, particularly culinary products such as pots, pans, stoves, food brands, etc.,” the Foundation wrote in the suit. Child’s television program, The French Chef, debuted in 1963 and was broadcast nationally for ten years, winning Emmy and Peabody Awards. She authored a total of 18 books, “nearly all of them educational books about food, cooking and the culinary arts,” including Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which launched her career.

To uphold her legacy, the Foundation – which holds the posthumous publicity rights for Child – “has adopted the same policy and generally refuses all requests of companies and brands to allow her name or image to be used in connection with their advertising, marketing or promotion.”

The complaint alleges that Williams-Sonoma “prominently” used Child’s name and photograph in a broad variety of promotional materials in stores, e-mail blasts to customers, on the company’s Web site, and across a spectrum of social media sites that enabled Facebook and Pinterest users to further distribute such imagery. The retailer even “ran a ‘Julia Child Sweepstakes’ [to] further promot[e] its business and products.”

All of these commercial uses of Child’s image were done without permission or compensation, the Foundation said. The suit seeks an injunction against all future use of Julia Child’s name, photograph, likeness, and other indicia of her persona, as well as monetary damages for their unauthorized use. Punitive damages should also be awarded, the suit contended, as the defendant’s actions were willful and with deliberate disregard of her publicity rights.

Why it matters: The Foundation’s complaint alleges that Williams-Sonoma’s unauthorized use of Child’s publicity rights was not just illegal but also goes against Julia Child’s personal beliefs. “Throughout her life and career, Julia Child had many opportunities for commercial advancement, including commercial endorsement and spokesperson opportunities with companies in the food and culinary industry,” according to the complaint. “She could have created a lifestyle brand like Martha Stewart or Oprah Winfrey, and could have become a spokesperson for multi-billion commercial brands in the kitchen, culinary and food industry – brands such as Williams-Sonoma – for large sums of money. Instead, she steadfastly refused all such commercial opportunities and focused her career on public education.”

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