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$8.9 Million Award to Michael Jordan Shows the Value of Advertising Injuries

8. September 2015 07:37

basketball in the hoop

In case you missed it, Michael Jordan won his case against now-defunct supermarket chain Dominick's over an ad it placed in a 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated, according to Insurance Journal. The report states the five-year court battle started because Dominick's ad congratulated Michael Jordan on his Basketball Hall of Fame induction (which read, "You're a cut above") while simultaneously offering customers a coupon for $2 off some steaks.

One could argue the juxtaposition alone was an unflattering one for Jordan, who never gave his consent for the supermarket to use his name. So the report states Jordan's high-powered lawyers went to work and argued successfully that:

Faced with those arguments and the evidence that Jordan didn't give the supermarket permission to use his name for the ad, the court ruled in favor of Jordan and ordered Safeway (the company that owned Dominick's) to pay $8.9 million in damages, the report notes.

Now that you have the scoop, let's see what this case can teach small businesses about using someone's name or likeness in their advertising without permission (other than it is really, really expensive).

Reminder: Celebrity Names and Images Are Not Public Domain

When you see a celebrity's face on TV or their names regularly glossing magazines, it can be easy to forget that businesses and brands pay high dollar to have their companies associated with the stars. Just because the celebrity lives in the public eye doesn't mean their image, likeness, or name is free for the public to use as it sees fit.

Michael Jordan's case exemplifies this in plain detail: he worked hard to build his name, and part of that work means actively pursuing businesses that try to use it without his consent.

Actress Katherine Heigl was involved in a similar situation when the drug store chain Duane Reade tweeted a picture of her carrying shopping bags from the store. Because the photo was used in a commercial context without her consent…

You can read more about the case in Chapter 2 of our eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury.

In short: make sure your business doesn't use a celebrity's image, name, or words without their express permission. Their endorsement is probably worth much more than you can spare, and using their likeness illegally to promote your products or services can lead to an equally expensive lawsuit.

Get Creative with Your Advertising

So you can't foot the bill for a celebrity endorsement. Big deal! There are endless budget-friendly ways to attract more attention to your business:

Lastly, think of General Liability Insurance as another facet of your marketing strategy. You don't need it in order to advertise your business, but it's a good failsafe in case someone ever accuses you of misappropriation, copyright infringement, or libel. A General Liability policy with advertising injury coverage can help pay for legal expenses associated with these claims, which can be astronomic (an average of $50,000 – read more about that here: "Study: 4 in 10 Small Businesses Likely to Have an Insurance Claim in the Next Decade").

To learn more about these types of lawsuits, check out our advertising injury blog series.

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