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Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner has successfully navigated the first impediment in a lawsuit over a plastic toy hamster named “Harris Faulkner.”
The anchor of Fox Report Weekend filed suit last August against Hasbro for allegedly violating her likeness and causing her emotional distress via a toy included in Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop product line. In reaction, Hasbro argued in a motion to dismiss that its hamster toy looked nothing like the plaintiff and that “name-sameness is not enough to state a claim for a violation of one’s right of publicity.”
U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden disagrees.
In an opinion released on Thursday, she writes, “In the specialized context of Hasbro’s successful toy line ‘world,’ in which the hamster is admittedly ‘a character’ designed to be played with, Faulkner’s allegation that this doll bears her unusual celebrity name sufficiently pleads a violation of the right of publicity.”
Faulkner gets past the pleading stage in part because the judge notes that the cited past publicity right disputes were decided at the summary judgment phase — where contentions of fact come into play.
Because of this, the judge dodges Hasbro’s contention that Faulkner’s Fox News is “so completely at odds with the Hamster Toy’s imaginary world of Littlest Pet Shop that the court should treat the stark contextual difference as a ‘minus’ factor warranting dismissal.”
Hayden writes: “Substantively, the allegations about this toy line and Hasbro’s own statements establish that when a character like the hamster doll is used for what it is intended — play — it may take on new dimensions when it is linked up with and ‘becomes’ a real person … Faulkner is entitled to adduce evidence that as a child plays inside this fictionalized, highly interactive world, s/he may see or put into the girl hamster doll named Harris Faulkner the identity, persona, and characteristics of the real Harris Faulkner.”
Time will tell whether the discovery phase yields surveys of young children and their opinions of Fox News anchors.
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