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Steve Jobs' Turtleneck and the Right of Publicity

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

A lawsuit has yet to be filed, but the Steve Jobs turtleneck is now at the center of a bizarre fashion controversy.

Knitwear Corp., manufacturer of the St. Croix line of men's knitwear, is accused of lying about the turtleneck's origin. Interviews with top executives imply that Steve Jobs wore St. Croix mock turtlenecks. A website promotion further insinuates this connection.

Statements made by Jobs to his official biographer indicate that these assertions are anything but true.

Knitcraft Corp. vice president Mary Bergin claims she never listed Jobs as a St. Croix customer, reports the Associated Press. She argues that she had "seen on the Internet for years that he wore our product."

However, an interview with a local paper quotes Bergin as saying that Jobs "purchased a few dozen turtlenecks every year for the past 15 years."

The St. Croix website also features a photo of Steve Jobs in the turtleneck, and offers to donate $20 of each purchase to the American Cancer Society.

Even if Steve Jobs' turtlenecks were of St. Croix origin, the above actions likely infringe on his, and his estate's, right of publicity.

It is generally illegal to use a person's image or name to promote a product without first receiving permission. Official statements and advertisements cannot insinuate that a celebrity endorses the product, or even uses it.

This even applies when proceeds are donated to charity, as suggested by the St. Croix website. The promotion implies that Steve Jobs supported the specific charity. It's irrelevant whether he did.

Knitwear Corp. has since backtracked on its statements. Whether this is the result of the above legal implications is unknown. However, the company's actions probably have something to do with the truth.

The Steve Jobs turtleneck was actually created by designer Issey Miyake.

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