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The California Supreme Court has agreed to review one of the more interesting intellectual property cases to come along in awhile. Christoff v. Nestlé USA was filed by a male model who claims he was shopping at his local supermarket in 2002 and discovered his smiling face on a label of Taster’s Choice instant coffee. He’d posed for some pictures back in 1986 and was paid $250 for his time, but his photo was used without permission from 1997-2003 on the popular blend. He sued for violation of his right-of-publicity and won $15.6 million in 2005 from a California jury.
On appeal, the court is presented with the issues of whether the single-publication rule applies to claims under California’s right-of-publicity law and whether the discovery rule applies to claims subject to the single-publication rule.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal said “Yes” to the first question and “Sometimes” to the second in an opinion that also reversed the jury award to the man, Robert Christoff. Right-of-publicity cases are often fought by household-name celebrities, so it’s easy to forget the law applies to nonfamous people too. The Supremes did not limit their review, meaning they’re taking on the entirety of case as complex as the rich aromas of Taster’s Choice coffee.
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