Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Is Your Good Name Worth?

Recently, I was reading through the online news, and a story caught my eye.

Woody Allen is suing American Apparel for $10 million, saying they used his image in advertising without his permission. Mr. Allen, who does not do any sort of product endorsement in the U.S., claims that the unauthorized use of his image damaged his "good name."

American Apparel has decided to fight the suit, using some very interesting, even novel arguments:

1. The billboards were up and down in less than a week in only a couple of locations (New York and L.A.) so $10 million is excessive, and...

2. It is impossible for anything American Apparel did cause Mr. Allen's name/character to be defamed, because Mr. Allen defamed his own name/character so much that further defamation is simply impossible.

My first thought: Huh?

Remember back in the early '90's, when Woody Allen cheated on his long-time girlfriend/mother of his child Mia Farrow with Ms. Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn? Who was still in her teens at the time?

Then, remember the custody fight over Farrow and Allen's child? When Farrow accused Allen of molesting the kids? And Allen denied it, but the judge granted Farrow full custody? Then Allen married Soon Yi?

That's what American Apparel is referring to: they're saying Allen's reputation has been worthless since that time, so nothing anyone could do could diminish it any further.

To bolster this argument, American Apparel has subpoenaed tons of documents from the Allen/Farrow custody battle and plans to call witnesses to discuss the early relationship between Previn and Allen.

My second reaction: clever, but sleazy.

If repeated viewings of legal shows (Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Practice, Law & Order: Traffic Court, Boston Legal, Law & Order: Mobile K-9 DARE Unit, The Soup) have taught me anything, it is this: clever and smarmy never win. I think American Apparel has overplayed its hand here.

I think Woody Allen is a talented filmmaker whose personal life certainly would have trouble being judged under scrutiny. I think Allen ought to fight it this way: they didn't use an image of him from his personal life, they used an image of him from the movie Annie Hall, in which he was dressed as a Rabbi. While his personal reputation may indeed be quite low with many of us, his professional reputation is still strong and respected, and by using an image of him from his films, they were obviously banking on his professional reputation, not his personal one. But I'm not a lawyer, so what do I know?

This American Apparel thing also scares me because of possible precedent:

Deb: Your honor, while I enjoy the chocolate, cream-filled goodness of Mostest's Hoo-Ha's, I clearly didn't give the company permission to put my picture on the box with the caption "Mrs. Hoo-Ha." I feel this disparages my character and intelligence.

Smarmy Attorney: Your honor, I have here photographic evidence that this woman, on several occasions, dressed as a duck and threw candy at children. Voluntarily. How could anything we do make her appear any more stupid than she already did?

Judge: Really? A duck?

Deb: (whispering) It was a gander.

Judge: Case dismissed.

So we need to keep this in mind. Who knows where this could lead? Imagine the world if just anyone could use anyone's name or image for free to promote anything? We might have Ryan Seacrest on the bottle of Gold Bond Medicated Powder, or Paris Hilton on the boxes of various hygiene/contraceptive products.

Or some bad ones might happen, too.


Kristina P. said...

I love their arguments. Because they are so completely ridiculous.

We'll see though!!

Boy Mom said...

Mostest's Hoo-Ha's Yummmmmmmmm! Our Mostests Thrift Store went out of business recently, now I'll never see you "Mrs. Hoo-Ha" I mean Deb.

Thanks for the warning, badder ones could definitely happen.