Monday, June 4, 2012

Charlie Sheen Trademark Infringement and Right of Publicity

For $250, guests of a New York Gentlemen’s Club could eat sushi off the body of an almost-naked woman in the “Charlie Sheen Room.” At least until Sheen’s lawyer sent the Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club a cease and desist letter threatening a lawsuit for millions, which the club complied with.

The “Charlie Sheen Room” featured Sheen’s name and images. It sounds a little creepy, but hey, to each his own. The president of the company owning Cheetahs, Sam Zherka, denied that it used Sheen’s name to promote the business. Rather, he says that the strip club used the name for comical effect and felt that it would help, not harm, Sheen’s reputation.

Sheen apparently did not appreciate the effort. Sheen’s lawyer, Marty Singer, reportedly commented: “You can’t use any celebrity name to promote a business without permission. They had no right to use his name.”

Sheen’s lawyer likely relies on the right of publicity laws in California. California Cal. Civ. Code Section 3344 states:

“Any person who knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person’s prior consent…shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof.”

Although Zherka says that the purpose of using Sheen’s name and images did not include promoting business and customers did not visit the club to see the “Charlie Sheen Room,” Sheen may have had a good argument. Sheen’s reputation may not be the best, but his controversial reputation has helped attract attention and profits. In 2011, Sheen set a new Guinness World Record for the “Fastest Time to Reach 1 Million Followers” on Twitter and his nationwide tour “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not An Option” sold out in 18 minutes.

We will never know which way a court would have ruled in this case, but it seems like Cheetahs took the smart route by taking down its unauthorized use of Sheen’s name and images from its VIP room.