In 2008, former Mayor of Washington, D.C., and then council member Marion Barry became ill with a kidney disease. To survive the illness, Mr. Barry required a kidney transplant, and one of his friends, Ms. Kim Dickens, came to his aid and donated one of her kidneys. Although the transplant helped Mr. Barry survive for several more years, he passed away in November 2014. Ironically, Mr. Barry’s widow is now suing Ms. Dickens.

In a lawsuit filed by Cora Masters Barry against Kim Dickens, Mrs. Barry alleges that Ms. Dickens has unlawfully used her late husband’s celebrity identity in order to promote the “Barry Dickens Kidney Foundation,” a charity formed by Ms. Dickens. According to the website of the Barry Dickens Kidney Foundation, Marion Barry played a role in the formation of that group, and the website even features photographs of Mr. Barry along with a detailed story of how Ms. Dickens came to donate one of her kidneys to Mr. Barry.

Mrs. Barry’s claims against the Foundation are not without legal precedent. In 1993, Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White sued Samsung Electronics of America in connection with a television ad which depicted a robotic version of Ms. White to promote sales of Samsung’s video cassette recorder. Ruling in favor of Ms. White, the Court of Appeal determined that television and other media create “marketable celebrity identity value,” and a celebrity has an exclusive right to exploit this value by prohibiting unauthorized commercial exploitation of their identity.


Continue Reading Move Over Vanna White, Here Comes Marion Barry’s Kidney

Since his death in 1981, reggae superstar Bob Marley and his “image” continue to be broadly popular and command millions of dollars each year in merchandising revenue. His children own an entity called Fifth Six Hope Road, Music, Ltd. which was formed to acquire and exploit the assets, rights and commercial interests of their late father. In 1999, Hope Road granted Zion Rootswear, LLC, an exclusive license with regard to the use of Bob Marley’s image on various clothing and other merchandise.

After discovering that several companies had been selling t-shirts and other merchandise with the image of Bob Marley on them, Hope Road and Zion brought a lawsuit against them and included a claim for “false endorsement” under 15 USC §1125(a). (This article does not address the other claims pursued in this lawsuit.)

After trial, a jury found that the Defendants were liable under a false endorsement theory and awarded Plaintiffs almost $800,000 in damages plus their attorney’s fees of approximately $1.5 million. The Defendants appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit arguing that there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding against them and that Plaintiffs’ use of the false endorsement claim under 15 USC §1125 effectively created a federal “right of privacy,” which Congress had not intended.
Continue Reading Bob Marley and Federal False Endorsement Claims