Vanna White’s Intellectual Property Case

by JRO on April 6, 2013

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The Players

Vanna White, longtime hostess for the world famous game show “Wheel of Fortune.”, in this case known as the plaintiff. Samsung Electronics, manufacturer of everything from cell phones to DVD players to flat panel televisions, known in this case as the defendant.

The Case

Vanna White filed her lawsuit in California against the defendant, Samsung Electronics, citing a violation of her famous personal and intellectual property rights. Samsung was accused of using a persona similar to that of White’s to sell their line of video cassette recorders through television commercials. The case was first filed in California’s District Court in 1991.

Case Specifics

White alleged that Samsung Electronics ran a series of television commercials using a robot, dressed as a woman, turning letters (such as White’s duties on Wheel of Fortune). She claims that Samsung attempted to make a profit on her fame, fortune, and likeness without her express permission, nor without compensating her for doing so. White also claimed that the robot in the commercial was dressed with a gown, jewelry, and a wig to strongly resemble her likeness. Samsung Electronics used the robot in the commercial, along with an identical game board matching that of White’s on Wheel of Fortune. The commercial used other celebrity likenesses as well, but according to White, she was the only one not compensated or asked permission of before the airing of the commercials. Ad executives at Samsung Electronics even referred to this series of commercials as the “Vanna White commercial.”

The Outcome

The district court granted summary judgment against Vanna White in favor of Samsung Electonics on all of White’s claims. This was simply the first step in a very long and drawn out case that was far from over.

The Appeal

Vanna White immediately had her legal counsel file an appeal of the district court’s summary judgment ruling. The case moved forward to the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit on June 7th, 1991. Vanna White’s appeal was based on the idea that the district court made a mistake in their ruling against her charge of Samsung Electronics’ violation of Section 3444 of California Law: “[a]ny person who knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, … for purposes of advertising or selling, … without such person’s prior consent … shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof.” White’s legal team further argued that by running a commercial with the robot lookalike of her, violated the “likeness” portion of Secition 3444. White also argued that the district court made a mistake in granting summary judgment to Samsung by violating her common law right to publicity. White alleged that Samsung knowingly violated the law by the defendant’s use of the plaintiff’s identity; (2) the appropriation of plaintiff’s name or likeness to defendant’s advantage, commercially or otherwise; (3) lack of consent; and (4) resulting injury.”

The Ruling

The United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit upheld the original ruling of the lower court, stating that simply using the likeness of White was not intellectual theft. The court further stated that the consumer would in no way, believe the robot to be Vanna White, nor that she would endorse the Samsung product. The robot, performing the same job act as White, is doing just that, performing an act. White appealed to the U.S Supreme Court, where she was awarded more than $400,000 in damages.

Byline

Samuel Cleveland writes primarily on legal topics, including Intellectual Property, Divorce Law, Patent Law, International Business Law, Contracts, Civil Procedure and other areas. Those with family law needs should visit Plano divorce attorney.

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