Woody Allen has no reputation to damage, says clothes firm that used his image

Out-Law News | 22 Apr 2009 | 10:26 am | 2 min. read

Woody Allen has sued clothes maker American Apparel for damage to his reputation after it used his picture in poster adverts without his permission. The company, though, says that Allen's controversial personal life means he has no reputation to damage.

Poster adverts that appeared in New York and Los Angeles depicted a still of Allen from the film Annie Hall in which he is dressed in the black clothes of an Orthodox Jew.

Allen sued the company for reputational damage because he did not endorse the clothes and had not given permission for the use of his image.

The company has fought back, though, claiming that Allen's relationship with, and later marriage to, his step-daughter Soon-Yi Previn had so damaged him in the eyes of the public that he had no good reputation left to damage.

Allen has sued for $10 million in damages, saying that he does not endorse products in the US. The billboards were taken down after a week and American Apparel has apologised to Allen for the use of his image.

Allen's suit has drawn an unusual defence from the company, though, mostly centring on Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. Mia Farrow adopted Previn and was in a relationship with Allen when she discovered nude pictures of her taken by him in 1992. Allen later married Previn.

"Woody Allen expects 10 million dollars for use of his image on billboards that were up and down in less than one week. I think Woody Allen overestimates the value of his image," American Apparel lawyer Stuart Slotnick told the Press Association.

"Certainly, our belief is that after the various sex scandals that Woody Allen has been associated with, corporate America's desire to have Woody Allen endorse their product is not what he may believe it is," said Slotnick.

The company has asked Allen for documentation relating to previous endorsements and business deals to determine if Allen lost contracts or earnings as a result of his relationship with Previn.

In another unusual US case last year rapper 50 Cent claimed that a promotion by fast food restaurant Taco Bell inviting him to change his name to reflect prices on its menus 'stole' his endorsement.

In the UK, racing driver Eddie Irvine won £25,000 in the Court of Appeal from radio station Talksport after it used an image of him without his permission in an advert. Irvine was initially only awarded £2,000 but successfully argued that his minimum fee for endorsements was £25,000.

Guns N' Roses singer Axl Rose also tried to take action over a promotion that involved him without his permission. Soft drink firm Dr Pepper said everyone in the US apart from departed band guitarists Slash and Buckethead could have a free can of the drink if the long-delayed album was released in 2008.

It was, and the company issued coupons to website visitors for free cans of the drink. A lawyer for Rose then said that the move falsely suggested a 'co-promotional relationship' between Rose and Dr Pepper.

Editor's note, 18/05/2009: American Apparel has settled its dispute with Woody Allen by agreeing to pay $5 million, according to The Guardian.