This week Chadwick McQueen, son of Steve McQueen has sued Tom Ford for using the name of the actor in his new cardigan line.
The romance between celebrities and fashion goes back to black-and-white films. Their names, their image and their songs have been used for decades to increase interest and, ultimately, sell more clothes, through royalties. But what happens when the line is crossed and the artist’s name, sometimes already deceased, is used without their consent? Is it illegal to say that a dress has Kim Kardashian’s style or it is already part of the pop culture?
That is the dilemma that has brought Tom Ford to the courts. Chadwick McQueen, son of Steve McQueen, sued this week the American designer for the use of the name of the actor in the garments of his new collection.
McQueen, who owns his father’s image rights, has demanded a 2-million-dollar compensation to Tom Ford, as well as the return of all profits earned from the sale of the garments. In addition, the actor’s son has requested a court order prohibiting other fashion companies to use the name of Steve McQueen and the destruction of all marketing and promotional material with the name of the actor.
In the United States, there is the Right of Publicity, which protects the image of every individual
The right that protects the use of an individual’s image is regulated differently according to the region. In the United States, there is the Right of Publicity, which protects “the non-authorized commercial use of the name, image or any other recognizable aspect of the person.” However, in the North American country this right is protected under state law and is only applicable in half of the states.
New York and California, for instance, have applicable laws to protect that right. In the East Coast state the law brings protection to the name, portrait, image and voice of a person. Despite that, the New York judicial authorities do not recognize it as a posthumous right. In California, meanwhile, the right of publicity protects against the non-authorized used of the name or the resemblance of a person with commercial purposes and other exploitation purposes.
In Spain, the protection of the image is backed by the Ley Orgánica 1/1982 that develops the right on the protection of honor, personal and family privacy and the image itself. In fact, that was the law to which Telma Ortiz, Queen of Spain Letizia’s sister, sought protection when it sued the media in 2008 for “constant harassment.”
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé are some of the celebrities that have sued a fashion company for the use of their image
Regarding the use of the image of a deceased person, the law states that the exercise of civil protection actions of the honor, privacy, or image of a deceased person corresponds to whoever has designated for that purpose in his testament.
Another case of dispute between a celebrity and a brand in the fashion industry is the one that involved Rihanna. In 2012, the singer bring an action against Topshop in the United Kingdom Court of Appeal for the use of her name in several T-shirts. Rihanna claimed that she had not authorized the British company to use her image.
That is not the first time that the singer goes to court in relation to the use of her name. Rihanna sued her father Ronald Fenty for, according to her, taking advantage of her name to do business.
Collaborations between celebrities and brands are common in the fashion sector
Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams are other celebrities of the music industry that have also sued fashion companies for the unauthorized use of their image. The singers specifically initiated a legal process against Eleven Paris in 2015, alleging that the company had made use of their image without consent.
We also find examples in other sectors beyond fashion in which a public figure has sued a company for the use of their name. This is the case of Brando Enterprises, the company that manages Marlo Brando’s rights, which sued the furniture chain Room To Go for naming one of the pieces as the actor.
Tom Ford’s action is not the first demand that the heirs of Steve McQueen put to a company for the use of the actor’s name. In August, the singer’s sons took Ferrari to court for using the name of McQueen without an authorization, and claimed two million euros for damages.
Jane Birkin requested Hermès to stop using her name to define its iconic handbag
Another of the personalities that have waged a legal battle against a fashion company is Kim Kardashian. In February, the celebrity accused Missguided of “unlawful misappropriation” after the company copied the design of a dress worn by Kardashian and used her name in social media. Kardashian requested ten million dollars as compensation for damages.
Through a license agreement, collaborations between celebrities and brands are common in the fashion industry. The image of music groups such as The Ramones, The Beatles, Queen or David Bowie are printed on T-shirts of several fashion companies.
That is the case of Hermès, which named its handbags Birkin and Kelly in honor of the actresses Jane Birkin and Grace Kelly and today have become icons of the company. Or the Lady Dior handbag, of the French company, which was named after the Princess of Wales.
However, starting a friendly relationship does not even guarantee that the romance will last forever. In 2015, Jane Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name to identify the bag after Peta, the lobby that protects animal rights, revealed the methods that the company used to put down the crocodiles and alligators from which the article is made.
Finally, the issue did not go beyond that because the actress withdrew the request after the French company took action in the treatment of animals in their farms for the manufacture of the handbags.