From the What-Were-They-Thinking Department comes this story that noted Fox News Channel anchor Harris Faulkner has filed a federal lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey against toy giant Hasbro, Inc. over one of its Littlest Pet Shop toy’s that bears her name. For some reason, Hasbro thought it was a cute idea to name its hamster figurine “Harris Faulkner” – without asking Ms. Faulkner’s permission or paying her to do so. Did they think no one would notice?
The real Harris Faulkner sent letters to Hasbro telling them to cease and desist but apparently they were ignored by the company who continued to sell the toy for months after the notice until finally pulling it from shelves this year; it can still be found on re-sellers websites like Amazon and eBay. There will be the question of profits derived from the sale of the item by Hasbro while it was available under the theory that this use violated the Emmy-award winning anchor’s rights to privacy and publicity.
The right to privacy means that a person has the right to not have their name or likeness used for commercial use without their permission. The right to publicity means that a person has the right to control how they want their name and likeness exposed to the public for commercial gain. While similar and sometimes used interchangeably by lawyers and courts, the two rights are technically separate and this use of Ms. Faulkner’s name would seem to violate both. There is no Federal right to privacy or publicity. Most states have statutes dealing with the right to privacy and the right to publicity, though New Jersey does not. Rather, New Jersey’s state appellate courts recognize a common law right of publicity and a comparable protection on a privacy theory. The unique quality of her name will make this a rather easy lawsuit to prove. “Harris Faulkner” is not a likely name to invent for a female hamster. They chose it to make use of Ms. Faulkner’s popularity. Ms. Faulkner goes one better saying that Hasbro even made it look like her. The lawsuit states:
In addition to its prominent and unauthorized use of Faulkner’s name, elements of the Harris Faulkner Hamster Doll also bear a physical resemblance to Faulkner’s traditional professional appearance, in particular the tone of its complexion, the shape of its eyes, and the design of its eye makeup
What do you think?:
The complaint alleges it’s demeaning to Faulkner and her reputation to have a rodent toy named after her and I agree. Faulkner has won six Emmys, been on TV for over two decades and is currently on Fox News Channel six days a week. But isn’t she cute! The toy sends the message that she’s just a pretty little thing. Several years ago, NY lawyer Steve Zissou sued and settled with filmmaker Wes Anderson over the use of his name in the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisssou though you can’t compare your name being used in the title of a Wes Anderson film with being made out to be a rodent toy. The former would be one of the greatest things ever, the latter – not so much. Both however violate the subject’s right to privacy and publicity. In any event, Ms. Faulkner and her lawyers should have an easy time on this one.
Follow me onTwitter @oscarmichelen.com