Look at my neck, look at my jet
Ain’t got enough money to pay me respect
And, Ariana is demanding that a major retailer respect her intellectual property rights to the tune of $10 million.
A week after we wrote about the brand risks of unauthorized celebrity endorsements, pop star Ariana Grande filed suit in the United States District Court in Los Angeles for violation of her intellectual and publicity rights. Grande’s suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages, the defendant’s profits, and punitive damages related to retailer Forever 21’s violation of Grande’s right of publicity and violations of her proprietary trademarks, and copyrights. Grande’s complaint, which primarily revolves around the celebrity’s imagery from her music video “7 Rings” and its pink-saturated house party, alleges that Forever 21 and related beauty product company Riley Rose used Grande’s name, image, likeness and music without authorization to generate renewed interest in the Forever 21 and Riley Rose brands on social media platforms to elicit sales of their products.
Grande is a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and actor with more than 160 million Instagram followers and 64 million followers on Twitter. Given her status as one of the most-followed celebrities on Instagram, Grande earns several hundred thousand dollars for each social media post and millions in long-term endorsement deals. The lawsuit takes issue with posts from Forever 21’s Instagram account that include snapshots from “7 Rings” and advertisements in which a “look-alike model” — a brunette with a slicked back high ponytail — is dressed similarly to Grande in the video. In one post on Forever 21’s Instagram account, the model wore a hairpiece with two pink puff balls. The caption echoed lyrics from “7 Rings” (“Gee thanks, just bought it”) and asked viewers to “shop our favorite trend.” In another post, the model wore camouflage capris and pink stilettos, urging users to “swipe up to shop.”
According to the complaint, Forever 21 had sought Grande’s endorsement of its clothing and accessory products. Grande declined and the proposed endorsement deal never came to fruition. Forever 21 and Riley Rose, a beauty company started by Esther and Linda Chang, the daughters of Forever 21’s founders, launched an advertising campaign featuring a model whose image, hairstyle and styling similar to that of Grande in her music video for Grande’s hit video “7 Rings.” The Forever 21 campaign additionally played the “7 Rings” audio over the post, along with other copy-cat imagery. The complaint shows the comparisons of the unauthorized ad, the look-alike model and styling and other similarities:
Forever 21’s allegedly infringing and unauthorized posts remained on Forever 21’s and Riley Rose’s social media accounts for 14 weeks until at least April 17, 2019, despite demands from Grande’s attorneys to remove them.
Ironically perhaps, the 7 Rings song itself which hit No.1 in Billboard’s singles chart earlier this year reinterprets “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music,” with Grande changing the original’s lyrics about simple joys — “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” — to a paean of conspicuous consumption “Breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles . . . Buy myself all of my favorite things.” According to a New York Times article [Insert link https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/business/media/ariana-grande-7-rings-rodgers-hammerstein.html], Grande and her record label Republic are paying Concord, the music company that has owned the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog since 2017, a 90% percent royalty for the tune. Given that hefty fee, it is not surprising that Grande and her co-plaintiff GrandAri Inc. are not pleased that the defendants were profiting from use of their property.
The complaint includes claims for violation of the common law right of publicity, false endorsement, trademark infringement, and copyright infringement. In addition to the $10 million in damages, disgorgement of profits and punitive damages, Grande is seeking a permanent injunction, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and costs, and other “just and proper” relief.
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