Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting Woody in Federal Court over 'Fair Use'

Oscar-winning director and iconic stand-up comic Woody Allen is expected to testify in federal court in Manhattan today as the first witness following jury selection in his $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel, Inc.(AAI) arising from the Los Angeles-based clothing manufacturer's alleged misappropriation of Allen's likeness on billboards and in Internet ads in 2007.
The lawsuit, Woody Allen v. American Apparel, Inc.(1:08-cv-03179), was filed March 31, 2008, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and assigned to Judge Thomas Griesa. The publicity-shy Allen sued AAI, a Delaware corporation, based on billboards displayed in New York City and Hollywood in May 2007, as well as in Internet ads, using a depiction of Allen as a Hasidic Jew taken from his Oscar-winning film Annie Hall (1977). The billboards, which included Yiddish text that translated as "the Holly Rebbe," were taken down approximately one week after they appeared in May 2007.
Allen's Complaint includes counts alleging violation of the New York Civil Rights law and the federal Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1125(a), Sec. 43(a)). According to Allen, his likeness was used by the casual clothing maker without his permission for commercial purposes. In its Answer, AAI claimed the ad was protected by the First Amendment, and offered among its affirmative defenses, parody, fair use, and the public intereste exception contained in Section 50 of the NY Civil Rights Law.
AAI has attacked Allen's $10 million damages claim head-on, arguing that the 72-year-old Allen's value as an endorsement plummeted following his involvement in a sex scandal with former companion, Actress Mia Farrow, and her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, Allen's current spouse. The defendant has threatened to call both Ms. Farrow and Ms. Allen as witnesses.
Allen's attorneys claim he has not done commercial endorsements since his early days as a stand-up comic in the 1960s. Allen has called the billboards at issue an "appalling" and "mortifying" invasion of his privacy. Attendees expecting a reprise of the courtroom scene in "Bananas" are likely to be disappointed.

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