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Travel Channel Wins Lawsuit Over Filming at Racy Hot Dog Stand

The plaintiff showed up at a Chicago's Wiener's Circle and endured the foul-mouthed insults of staff, but did she have to accept reality TV cameras filming the abuse? A judge says yes.

Wiener's Circle in Chicago - H 2012

A federal judge in Illinois has rejected a $1 billion (yes, $1 billion) class action lawsuit alleging the Travel Channel violated the publicity rights of individuals shown at a popular Chicago hot dog restaurant. The plaintiffs claimed that the the show, Extreme Fast Food, never obtained consent to show the Wiener's Circle customers on the receiving end of insults, but the judge has determined that the plaintiffs' lawsuit wasn't garnished with enough mustard to overcome the taste of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit was filed last August by an Illinois resident named Jennifer Zglobicki on behalf of herself and others similarly situated. She alleged that she was filmed at Wiener's Circle, which, according to one travel book, is "famous not just for its hot dogs but also for the abrasive nature of the staff who are, shall we say, not the sort of people you would take home for tea."

Zglobicki showed up at the restaurant and endured the racy insults, but did she have to accept the reality TV cameras from the Travel Channel and the show's producer, Sharp Entertainment, filming the abuse? She didn't think so, asserting a claim under Illinois' Right of Publicity Act.

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In his decision earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle says that although the IRPA provides the "right to control and choose whether and how to use an individual's identity for commercial purposes," it provides no such protection for non-commercial purposes, such as any news or public affairs broadcast.

Judge Norgle says that despite the woman's arguments that her image was "incidental" to the gathering and distribution of footage, a television show that features a Chicago restaurant nevertheless is a "subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public."

As such, the plaintiffs' claims are precluded by First Amendment rights of the Travel Channel, which was represented by Blaine Kimrey at Lathrop & Gage.

The judge ends his opinion with a wise word of caution to everyone out there who might find themselves part of a reality TV show spectacle. To live life is to expose oneself. "The risk of this exposure is an essential incident of life in a society which places a primary value of freedom of speech and of press," he writes.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner