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Can companies use paparazzi photos as free advertising?

Actors don’t just make money from the movies or television shows they star in. They also often generate income by endorsing brands in paid advertisements. But in today’s society, with social media spreading paparazzi photos like wild fire, celebrities can become walking billboards for the brands they use during their everyday lives.

The question is, can brands share the paparazzi photos as free advertising? A lawsuit filed by actress Katherine Heigl was positioned to address this issue before it was dismissed last month.

Essentially, Heigl sued a popular drugstore for allegedly violating state and federal false advertising laws after the company posted to Twitter and Facebook a photo of the actress carrying the store’s shopping bags. The post also included a marketing statement saying the actress “can’t resist” shopping at the chain.

Heigl’s lawsuit demanded $6 million in damages, but the parties were able to settle the claim after the drugstore agreed to donate an unspecified amount of money to a charity of Heigl’s choice and take down the photo, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

While it was good that the parties were able to reach a settlement, it means that a court has yet to weigh in on when a company’s First Amendment right to share a celebrity photo crosses over into false advising territory. Are legally-obtained paparazzi photos always fair game? Does it depend on commentary added to the photo?

Undoubtedly, this won’t be the last claim filed on the issue as the practice is only becoming more common in Los Angeles and the rest of the country.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Katherine Heigl Ends Lawsuit Over Duane Reade Tweet (Exclusive),” Eriq Gardner, Aug. 27, 2014

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