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.