Julia Child Foundation sues oven maker over publicity rights

One hundred years after her birth and several years after her death, the star of “The French Chef” television show, Julia Child, still commands a recognizable presence. The chef and cookbook author’s postmortem publicity rights are in dispute. A court battle is underway between the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts and BSH Home Appliances Corp.

A copyright, trade dress and trademark infringement lawsuit was filed in California by the foundation which claims BSH did not receive permission to use Child’s name or images in advertising. The kitchen appliance maker asserted that it did no wrong, since the summertime ads were based on factual information that Child used BSH products.

According to court papers, BSH had no licensing agreement to bolster the commercial value of its ovens by associating the appliances with Julia Child. The complaint pointed out that the Julia Child Foundation followed the same practices as the deceased celebrity chef, who dismissed all efforts to tie her name to commercial products.

BSH responded in court. The company felt the advertising reflected the fact that Child used Thermador ovens and did not violate publicity rights’ laws.

At issue will be whether Child’s connection with BSH ovens gives the appliance maker a right to use the chef’s name and image commercially. A judge will determine whether the Julia Child Foundation has the intellectual property clout to stop BSH.

California laws concerning publicity rights allow individuals to protect their names, voices, images, likenesses and signatures. In many cases, consent must be given for a name or image to be connected with a commercial service or product.

Sometimes, the advertising use of an individual’s likeness without consent is permissible.

BSH says did not break intellectual property laws. The Julia Child Foundation believes the appliance company should have sought, but might have been denied, permission. Another legal consideration will be whether Child’s death impacts the former French Chef’s publicity rights.

Source: ipbrief.net, “‘Bon Appetit’: Julia Child’s Intellectual Property Legacy,” Chelsea Zimmerman, Sept. 9, 2012