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Ever seen an advertisement touting a product as being worn by a celebrity in a major film or TV show? Some celebrities have too, and they’re not pleased.
On Thursday, Sandra Bullock sued ToyWatch USA, a watchmaker for using her name to promote a diamond-encrusted, white band watch. The actress points to websites that have been advertising this watch as the same one that Bullock wore in her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side. Bullock is alleging her publicity rights have been infringed, and she’s asking a California judge for an injunction plus monetary damages.
According to Bullock’s lawsuit, the actress “will not voluntarily appear in print or other media for a company or product unless she carefully selects and believes in the company and product, and unless the compensation she receives is commensurate with the value of the exploitation of her name, image, identity, and persona.”
Part of the reasoning she cites for this is a fear of over-saturating her name. She also says her name has substantial commercial value, and in the lawsuit, she runs down her credits, including 8-time “People’s Choice Award” nominee. (Bullock also throws in that she won the “Hasty Pudding Theatricals ‘Woman of the Year’ Award in 2004.)
Bullock says that ToyWatch has been advertising her name in association with the watch at issue both on the company’s website as well as retail websites like Amazon.com. She adds that advertising and marketing have been placed on search engines like Google.
Search “Sandra Bullock watch” on Google and the first result is this Amazon.com page where the actress appears to have her own section.
The company also appears to have put up a video of the watch on YouTube with the description, “The white watch worn by Sandra Bullock in the movie The Blind Side…”
ToyWatch wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The company might attempt to argue that it had a fair use right to descriptively evoke the watch’s role in the film or question whether Bullock was truly damaged from the use of her name. Unlike many celebrities bringing this type of lawsuit, Bullock is not asserting any claims on false advertising under the Lanham Act or trademark infringement. Her sole claim is violation of her publicity rights, which will focus the court’s attention on whether the defendant misappropriated her name and likeness for commercial purposes.
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