The $8.9 Million Name

What’s the value of a person’s name? A grocery chain just found out that if you’re Michael Jordan, a Chicago jury thinks your name is worth $8.9 million.

In 2009, a local Chicago grocer, Dominick’s, ran an advertisement congratulating Jordan on his imminent induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame. What got Dominick’s in trouble was the $2 coupon it attached to its advertisement. When Jordan saw the advertisement, he concluded that Dominick’s was impermissibly using his name for commercial purposes without his permission and sued.

The “right of publicity” in many circumstances protects against the use of another’s name or likeness for commercial purposes. Dominick’s conceded it should not have used Jordan’s name without permission, but it did resist the amount of his claim. Unfortunately for Dominick’s – and its parent company, Safeway – the law awards damages based on the amount that Jordan typically obtains for an endorsement, not the benefit Dominick’s reaped from the advertisement. That benefit was modest indeed. Only two people used the coupon.

The lessons: First, while not always impermissible, using a person’s name without their permission carries significant risks; and second, seemingly innocent and minor legal errors can have costly unanticipated consequences.

As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.

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