• Woody Allen Sues T-Shirt Company for $10 Million
  • May 9, 2008
  • Law Firm: Reed Smith LLP - Office
  • Actor Woody Allen is asking a federal district court in New York to award him $10 million for the alleged unauthorized use of his likeness on a billboard.

    The billboard, displayed by the American Apparel company, depicts a scene from the Woody Allen film, “Annie Hall,” for which Allen won an Oscar for best director. The ad shows Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew, with a long beard and black hat, and includes Yiddish text that means “the Holy Rebbe.”

    The billboard also contains an “American Apparel” tag.

    Allen was never contacted by American Apparel, and did not consent to have his image used, he stated in a complaint filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

    American Apparel “utilized Allen’s image and identity in total disregard of his rights of privacy and publicity, his exclusive property rights and his personal rights in, and to, the use of his image and likeness,” the complaint states.

    “[American Apparel’s] unlawful use of Allen’s image for commercial advertising purposes is especially egregious and damaging because Allen does not commercially endorse any products in the United States of America,” the complaint says.

    The ads appeared on billboards in New York and Hollywood, “both cities in which Allen is especially recognizable due to his reputation in the entertainment industry,” says the complaint. In addition, the complaint says American Apparel displayed a picture of the billboard on its website.

    “The Infringing Billboard expressly, impliedly and falsely states that Allen sponsors, endorses and is associated with [American Apparel],” alleges the complaint.

    Allen is seeking $10 million in damages, and calls American Apparel’s actions “willful” and “reckless.” The complaint says American Apparel never sought Allen’s consent because the company knew he would not give it.

    American Apparel, which manufactures and sells cotton clothing, is known for its sexy take on women’s T-shirts. The company markets its wares via self-described “provocative ads.”

    Why This Matters:  While some have suggested the ad might pass muster as a parody, celebrities typically have the right to control commercial use of their images.