Selena Sues: Selena Gomez files $10m lawsuit against mobile game developers

May 7, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Selena Gomez is suing the developers of a mobile game for allegedly featuring a character that closely resembled her without her consent.

What does this mean?

California’s state-specific legal doctrine of the right of publicity confers “publicity rights” on individuals. These are the exclusive rights to the use of their names, images, and likenesses for commercial purposes. Any commercial exploitation of these rights by others without their permission gives rise to a claim for damages. The developers of “Clothes Forever – Styling Game” allegedly violated Gomez’s right of publicity by using her image and likeness in the game without her consent. The game featured a character that bore an uncanny resemblance to Gomez on a 2015 cover of Flare Magazine.

Gomez is a popular celebrity with a huge social media following (with the fifth most-followed account on Instagram, attracting 174m followers). Alex Weingarten, Gomez’s attorney, alleges that the game’s use of her image and likeness “creates the false impression that she has endorsed” it. He claims that in doing this, the defendants had attempted to unlawfully profit from her widespread fame. He added that Gomez’s unauthorised association with the game could damage her reputation, as it is rated a disappointing 3.5 out of 5 stars on Apple’s App Store, is “bug-riddled” and “relies on the unsavoury practice of luring its users to make in-game purchases in amounts as much as $99.99”.

Gomez is seeking damages of up to $10m (exact amount to be determined at trial) for “all income, profits or other benefits” realised by the defendants owing to their use of her likeness. She is also seeking injunctive relief to bar them from its further use.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights both the commercial benefits for a brand of being associated with a popular celebrity, and inversely, the potential negative impact on a celebrity of being associated with an unfavourable brand.

Endorsement by popular celebrities such as Gomez has significant commercial benefits for brands. It can greatly increase brand awareness, sales, and therefore profits. This is reflected in the cost of this expensive form of advertising. Brands pay Gomez millions of dollars for partnerships, and the star charges an estimated $800,000 for a single sponsored social media post.

Whether or not it is authorised, a celebrity’s association with a problematic, exploitative, or unethical brand can damage their reputation and credibility. Therefore, it is important that celebrities do not endorse, or are not seen to be endorsing, such brands. This is particularly crucial for those that are considered role models, or those with a young, impressionable audience, as they are more likely to have a stronger influence over their fans.

This case is not the first of its kind, and in an increasingly celebrity-obsessed society in which influencer endorsement is becoming more and more lucrative, it is unlikely to be the last.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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