Olympians Sue Samsung Over Image Rights

By Community | April 27, 2012

Former Olympic Swimming champion Mark Spitz, viagra diver Greg Louganis and heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee are among 18 athletes suing Samsung, arguing the tech giant’s Olympic Facebook app uses their names and images without permission.

The argument surrounds Samsung’s Olympic Genome Project app. The app works through your Facebook profile to build a “family tree” of Olympians you’re connected to. Samsung says its database includes more than 10,000 past and present Olympians and Paralympians.

At least 18 of them aren’t at all happy about it.

They argue in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles that Samsung is using their names and faces to create the impression they endorse Samsung products, including Galaxy tablets and phones. Samsung is profiting from the app and “denying plaintiffs compensation for the use of their names and images,” according to the suit.

“They’re using names and images to sell products, and they’ve admitted in interviews that they’re trying to create a more positive image for Samsung,” said Richard Foster, the plaintiff’s attorney. “California law says you can’t use anybody’s name or image to market a product unless you have their consent.”

This is a problem, Foster said, because “these athletes survive on endorsements,” and some have deals with Samsung’s competitors. Being associated with the Samsung app creates ongoing problems, he said, because “once you use a celebrity’s name or image to sell a product, they’re tied to that product category. It makes it difficult for them to get an endorsement deal with other companies in that product category.”

The suit also accuses Samsung of violating Section 3344 of the California civil code, which makes it a crime to use someone’s name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness for commercial purposes without the person’s explicit permission. The plaintiffs argue Samsung did not receive their permission.

Samsung countered in a statement. The company is “disappointed by the lawsuit” and worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee for more than year, following USOC procedures in communicating with athletes.

“Athletes have had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the program and to control their participation. Samsung will continue to support Team USA and the spirit of the Olympics in our efforts,” the company said, declining to comment further.

Foster said the communication consisted of an e-mail sent to each athlete, informing them of the app and telling them to return an attached letter if they wished to opt out. Foster said not all of his clients received the e-mail, while others may have deleted it without reading it. At least “three or four” returned the opt-out letter but were still included.