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Business Lessons From Katherine Heigl's Lawsuit

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

One of the worst things that can happen to a business is to get caught up in a high-profile lawsuit with a celebrity.

Just ask lawyers and PR managers for Duane Reade, the drug-store chain that's being sued by actress Katherine Heigl for allegedly misappropriating her image on Twitter and Facebook, The Associated Press reports.

While business owners may be eager to boast that celebs use their products or shop in their stores, what legal lessons can you learn from Heigl's lawsuit?

Lanham Act Violations Alleged

The lawsuit stems from Duane Reade's use of an unauthorized paparazzi photo of Katherine Heigl leaving one of its stores. Along with posting the image on social media, Duane Reade added: "Love a quick #DuaneReade run? Even @KatieHeigl can't resist shopping #NYC's favorite drugstore."

The problem is, Heigl isn't signed on to endorse Duane Reade, so she's alleging a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act. In general, the Lanham Act is used to regulate trademarks used in commerce, but it can also be used by individuals to sue for an injury to her reputation regarding a commercial interest or for false or deceptive adverting.

For business owners, this means that you'll want to avoid using anyone's photo for advertising purposes without their permission. Not only can you run into potential Lanham Act violations, but you could also face a copyright infringement lawsuit if you use an image without the copyright owner's permission or a license.

Avoiding Lawsuits Over Advertisements

To avoid a lawsuit, if a business wants to use an individual's image or name to advertise a product, business owners should first obtain written consent. This way, all parties are aware that the image will be used and for what purposes.

If your business is unable to get written consent, consider using a stock photo instead. Stock photos are photographs that are licensed for specific uses. While Getty has made millions of its stock photos free for non-commercial use, business owners will still likely need to pay a licensing fee to use stock images for advertisements or promotional material.

But consider this: Even if you have to shell out money, it'll certainly be less than the legal fees and damages you'll face if you're accused of misappropriating another person's image. Heigl's lawsuit, for example, is seeking $6 million in damages.

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