Ryan Seacrest Co. Looks to Dismiss Janice Dickinson's Lawsuit Over Reality Show Cameo

Janice Dickinson - 2016 Art Hearts Fashion Week - Getty - H 2017
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During the sixth season of Shahs of Sunset, the Bravo reality television show from Ryan Seacrest Productions about six Iranian-American socialites in Los Angeles, Janice Dickinson made a brief appearance.  The supermodel pops up at a fashion show, specifically backstage, wearing a silver romper. As part of the ensuing discussion, castmember Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi exclaims that Dickinson “stole the outfit I’m supposed to be wearing? Oh hell no.”

Last March, Dickinson filed a lawsuit over her cameo. She says the scene was filmed without her knowledge or consent and it all was "intentionally manipulated... for the express purpose of fabricating a purported excuse to feature" her in both the episode and in promotion.

Alleging that producers pre-scripted a fabricated controversy and steered her towards that romper, Dickinson is claiming a false endorsement under the Lanham Act, dilution of her marks (really, her name and image) and unfair competition. The supermodel says she regularly commands fees for public appearances and here, the defendants — including NBCUniversal — are exploiting her pro bono charitable work at the fashion show.

On Friday, the defendants moved for dismissal with the argument that basic First Amendment protections bar her claims. The dismissal memorandum also points out that Dickinson is never identified in credits as a castmember, producer or sponsor of the series and that the main storyline in this episode really had nothing to do with her and the less-than-one-minute appearance.

Shahs of Sunset is an expressive not commercial work, say defendants, and the judge should look at Rogers v. Grimaldi, which directs judges to examine whether use of a mark has artistic relevance, and if so, whether the work is explicitly misleading.

"There is no question that the use of Dickinson’s 'mark' in the Episode — i.e., her name and likeness — is artistically relevant to the Episode for the simple reason that she appears in the fashion show depicted therein," states defendants' brief, which later adds, "The relevance to the Episode here extends beyond mere real-life portrayal, however, and speaks to the themes of both the Episode and Series. GG’s participation in the fashion show reflects her desire to seek new experiences in search of positivity, despite her anxiety over walking in a show in front of 800 to 1,000 people. Showing Dickinson — a self-professed 'world-famous, and indeed legendary supermodel' — in the same event provides a stark counterpoint to GG’s anxiety and lack of experience. GG’s anger over not being able to wear the romper is relevant to GG’s attempts to control her temper (a consistent theme in the Series), as she tries to “put Loch-Nessa [i.e. GG’s hot-tempered self] to bed.” And, more broadly, the inclusion of the fashion event itself in the Episode is part-and-parcel of the Series’ exploration of the personalities and doings of a group of individuals navigating life and celebrity, often with comic relief and frivolity."

As for whether there's anything misleading about the episode, the Shah producers argue Dickinson's likeness is only used to depict Dickinson herself and there's nothing to suggest she's a source or sponsor of the episode.

Here's the rest of the dismissal memorandum, which also argues there can be no trademark dilution from non-commercial speech and that in any case, producers have a nominative fair use to Dickinson's "mark." The defendants are represented by Edward Lee and Wook Hwang at Loeb & Loeb.