Thank You, Next Case: Ariana Grande sues Forever 21 for $10m over using “lookalike model”

September 6, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Ariana Grande is seeking $10 million in a lawsuit against Forever 21 for exploiting her image for commercial purposes by suggesting to the public that she had an affiliation with the American fashion retailer on their Instagram.

What does this mean?

The fast fashion firm Forever 21 originally sought a partnership with Ariana Grande back in 2018, yet talks fell through early this year. Grande explicitly refused a deal as Forever 21 did not want to “pay the fair market value”. It is now clear that no was not enough for Forever 21. They used at least 30 images and videos of Grande (without holding any rights to the content) on their Instagram page, and allegedly stole Grande’s “name, likeness, and other intellectual property to promote their brand name” by employing a “look-a-like” model who copied Grande’s hairstyle. 

Grande claims that this allowed Forever 21 to “create the false perception of her endorsement” despite her express rejection of any partnership with the brand in early 2019. Grande is not claiming ownership of her hairstyle or the clothing that was copied by the look-a-like model, but the exploitation of her image on social media. She justified this by claiming “even a single social media post by Ms. Grande can garner fees of several hundred thousand dollars”. She is suing for: 

  • Trademark infringements (relating to Forever 21’s use of her name)
  • Copyright infringements (relating to unauthorised use of photos)
  • False endorsement
  • Violation of Grande’s right of publicity (a law that is specific to that State of California).

What's the big picture effect?

Forever 21 is struggling with financial difficulties at the moment. The fast fashion retailer has over 815 stores worldwide, but in June of this year hired Latham & Watkins and Alvarez & Marsal as restructuring advisers. From this, the retailer hopes to save money on rent and raise money to help cover a loan made to them by JPMorgan Chase. The company had hoped to capitalise on teen fashion but has struggled to monopolise the teen fashion market. In fact, their attempts have seen young consumers migrate to other retailers. Now, a lawsuit with the very celebrity that they wanted to use to revamp their “cool image” amongst young consumers is another setback. 

Or is it? A similar case in California this summer saw Kim Kardashian win $2.7 million against the fast fashion brand Missguided USA (see our article on that here). Some have speculated that Missguided’s decision not to appear in court was a deliberate attempt to stoke scandal around the lawsuit for publicity. As such, some are now debating the effect that Grande’s lawsuit will have on Forever 21’s brand and whether it could even have a positive influence.

Returning to Grande’s case, copyright disputes, especially on Instagram, are commonplace amongst celebrities. They can work against them, like the cases against Khloe Kardashian and Gigi Hadid (see our article on that here), and work in their favour.  Regarding the “look-a-like” model, in 2011 Kim Kardashian filed a similar lawsuit for $20 million against the retailer Old Navy (a subsidiary of GAP) for using the look-a-like model Melissa Molinaro. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in 2012. This bodes well for Grande’s case, reflecting the real potential for punitive measures if trademark infringement or false endorsement on Ariana Grande are found. What remains to be seen is if Forever 21 will be able to negotiate a settlement or not.

Report written by Will Holmes

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