Even if you’ve never seen Casablanca you’ve probably seen the iconic image of Humphrey Bogart in a trench and fedora. Well, English heritage brand Burberry decided to use the image to show customers how far back the brand goes (their first store opened in 1856, FYI) to help create a “historical timeline”, so the brand decided to post it to their Facebook and Twitter pages, according to the New York Post. Unfortunately, Bogart’s estate wasn’t too thrilled that an image of the late great actor was being used to sell products and now the trench-coat-making company is being sued for “unspecified damages” which could run into the seven-figure ballpark.
Bogart’s son Stephen claims the brand illegally used an image of his father from the film Casablanca, and filed a lawsuit against Burberry back in April in Los Angeles, according to The Telegraph. A few weeks later, Burberry then filed a counter-claim stating that they paid a fee to a photo agency to use the photo, and that it was in no way used to sell merchandise. The brand also states that their right to use this image is protected under the the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But, to make things a little more interesting, it seems that the trench in the image may not even be a Burberry coat after all. Stephen Bogart says that it’s likely the trench in question could be from rival British brand Aquascutum. And so the plot thickens…
Now, I’m no lawyer (I can’t lie — my face gives me away and I start laughing uncontrollably) but I’m not entirely sure Burberry did anything wrong. They paid for the image and if anyone has the right to sue wouldn’t it be Warner Brothers, the producer of the film?
But, if Burberry is claiming that Bogart wore one of their trenches, then maybe Stephen Bogart has a case. But, what if Burberry is only claiming that Bogart’s character is wearing Burberry? God, that just gave me a headache.
This also delves into the murky waters of social media and the law, which I won’t go into too deeply because I am not an expert. But, it will definitely be interesting to see how this case will resolve itself in the end as it could set a precedent for social media and copyright issues, and could help answer this question: if a brand uses an image of a fictional or non-fictional person or character from a movie, TV show or the like on a social media platform, could the brand still be liable if they use said image to just innocently engage with their audience?
Do you think Burberry did anything wrong? And, if any of you are lawyers out there, please feel free to chime in.
[Image source: Telegraph via Rex]