Last week, Sandra Bullock and Ellen DeGeneres joined together to file a lawsuit in California Superior Court against unnamed affiliate marketers for falsely advertising that they had endorsed the marketers' products. In the complaint, Bullock and DeGeneres said that they are "joining forces in this action to expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry, which preys upon unsuspecting consumers, and exploits the names, images, likenesses and personas of well-known celebrities who have not authorized or been compensated for such use."
Bullock and DeGeneres alleged that they have been the victim of repeated advertising campaigns for various beauty and anti-aging products that falsely represent that they have endorsed the products. They alleged that these fraudulent advertising campaigns often look like legitimate or independent news reports or magazine articles about beauty products.
Because of the ability of affiliate marketers to mask their identities, Bullock and DeGeneres filed the lawsuit against unnamed defendants, so that they can conduct discovery to determine who is responsible for the advertising -- "unscrupulous individuals who hijack and subvert various features of the 'affiliate marketing' industry, and use the names and likenesses of celebrities without permission or the payment of any license fees."
In the lawsuit, Bullock and DeGeneres are suing for violation of their right of publicity, false advertising, and unfair competition, and are seeking compensatory damages, disgorgement of profits, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
This case should be an interesting one to watch. At this moment, it's not primarily about the legal issues. If a marketer uses a celebrity's name, picture, likeness, voice, or even identity for advertising purposes without his or her consent, that generally violates the celebrity's right of publicity. Falsely representing that the celebrities' have endorsed the products should give rise to false advertising and other claims as well. But exposing the inner workings of what Bullock and DeGeneres call the "dark side to the affiliate marketing industry" could give legitimate marketers, other celebrities, affiliate networks, and even regulators the ammunition they need to address some of these issues.
"the publications on the fake media sites feature comments and endorsements from Bullock and DeGeneres -- all of which are fake and fraudulent and published without Plaintffs' consent"