The Duluth Trading Company was looking for a way to promote its men’s Henley-style collarless polo shirts. It thought of Don Henley, the lead singer of the Eagles, whose first big hit in 1974 was called “Take It Easy.” So it created an ad that said, “Don a Henley and take it easy.”
Result: The company got sued – by Don Henley.
Under the law, celebrities often have a “right of publicity” – that is, they’ve worked hard to create positive associations with their name, and they have a right to keep other people from profiting from their celebrity status.
The Duluth company eventually settled the lawsuit, and part of the settlement was that it posted a formal apology to Henley on its Facebook page.
It’s important to know that the right of publicity might still exist even if a celebrity has died, because the right can become part of the celebrity’s estate. For instance, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board recently ruled that even though late-night comedian Johnny Carson died in 2005, a portable toilet entrepreneur still couldn’t call his product “Here’s Johnny.”