There is a long tradition of comedians and actors imitating celebrities and politicians. Alec Baldwin’s recurring turn as Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live is one recent example. But there is now a dispute where Ariana Grande is suing clothing retailer Forever 21 for $10 million because she claims the company used a look-alike model dressed and styled like the singer in her “7 Rings” video. The imitator was even wearing the same top that Grande has been photographed wearing and struck one of Grande’s signature (in her view) poses.
Celebrities and most others (soon even college athletes may finally be able to monetize their likeness thanks to SB-206) have the sole commercial right to their likeness. However, can they sue companies like Forever 21 for using look-alike models in ad campaigns or appearances?
Failed deal leads to a clandestine campaign
Grande’s suit alleges that Forever 21 proposed an endorsement with the singer, but the two sides could not agree on how much it would cost to hire the pop star, so the retailer took the next best thing in using her likeness for the campaign:
“Rather than pay for that right as the law requires, Defendants simply stole it by launching a misleading campaign across its website and social media platforms primarily in January and February 2019. The campaign capitalized on the concurrent success of Ms. Grande’s album ‘Thank U, Next’ by publishing at least 30 unauthorized images and videos misappropriating Ms. Grande’s name, image, likeness, and music in order to create the false perception of her endorsement.”
The suit goes on to claim that Forever 21 even used the audio and lyrics from the song “7 Rings” in one online ad. This would seem to contradict the states right to publicity statute, which covers the knowing use without consent of image or likeness, name, voice, photographs or signature in merchandising goods and services. The lawsuit also claims trademark and copyright infringement as well as false advertising.
Whose look is it?
Ironically, a drag queen named Farrah Moan claims that Grande and her people stole the look involved in the lawsuit from her. Depending on how the case unfolds, this could be an interesting wrinkle to a seemingly otherwise open-and-shut case of Forever 21 being guilty as charged.