Congratulating a Celebrity Could Get You Sued

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 22, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Want to congratulate Michael Jordan for his induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame? How about a shout out to Steph Curry for winning the NBA championship?

Be careful. You could get sued. Food company, Jewel Food Store, learned its lesson the hard way when a congratulatory ad to Michael Jordan landed the company in court for years over publicity rights.

We Just Wanted to Say Congrats

In 2009, Michael Jordan was inducted in to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Jewel Food Stores, possibly Jordan fans, ran an ad in Sports Illustrated magazine to congratulate Jordan on the achievement.

The ad had a photo of Jordan basketball shoes and congratulatory text. Also on the ad was Jewel's trademark and the slogan "Good Things Are Just Around the Corner." Other text on the ad referred to Jordan as "a fellow Chicagoan who was 'just around the corner' for so many years."

Thanks, But No Thanks

Jordan was probably flattered for all of two seconds before he decided to sue Jewel for right of publicity violation, false endorsement under the Lanham Act, and unfair competition.

Right of Publicity

The right to publicity is an individual's right to "control and profit from the commercial use of his/her name, likeness and persona"

Jordan argued that Jewel used his identity and fame to bolster their marketing. Jewel argued that the ad was non-commercial speech because it didn't promote any item or encourage people to go to Jewel's stores. So, the speech should be protected more strongly by the First Amendment.

The district court originally ruled in Jewel's favor. However, Jordan appealed the case, and the Court of Appeals ruled differently. The court found that while the advertising was not explicit, it did try to associate Jewel with Michael Jordan to promote goodwill for the company.

The case was sent back to the district court where Jordan must then prove under the state law that Jewel's ad had a commercial purpose.

Michael Jordan wants $5 million in damages from Jewel. We wonder how much he's spent on legal representation already.

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