Duane Reade in Hot Water Over Twitter and Facebook Post

If you have ever been to New York, you’re familiar with the ubiquitous pharmacy/convenience store, Duane Reade. They can be found on what seems to be at least ever other corner. Millions of people go out in and out of Duane Reade in New York City every single day. And as we have talked about before, there is also a fascination in our country with celebrity, and pieces like “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” which is found in US Weekly practically every issue.

It was no surprise, then, when paparazzi snapped a shot of former Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl walking out of a Duane Reade in Manhattan with bags in tow. These types of photos take place daily in New York or Los Angeles. What makes this particular photo interesting is that someone who handles social media for Duane Reade came across the photo and saw it as an opportunity to advertise. Duane Reade tweeted out the below photo on March 18th:

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Most likely, a limited number of people saw the tweet or Facebook post. The people who did see it probably didn’t think much of it, as countless casual photographs similar to this are seen in the grocery check out line all the time. Heigl and her attorneys, however, did think about it quite a bit.

Heigl Files Suit Against Duane Reade for Unauthorized Social Media Advertisement

Heigl filed a lawsuit seeking $6,000,000 in damages for Duane Reade taking the liberty to display her likeness with their company. It is quite an interesting case. Celebrities earn millions of dollars endorsing various products and services. Should a business be able to publish what is seen as an endorsement of their business without the person in question’s consent? Heigl’s attorney sure doesn’t think so, per the suit:

The Heigl photograph is a typical ‘paparazzi’ shot, depicting plaintiff walking on the street in New York City, in a private moment looking away from the camera.  Use of plaintiff’s image under these circumstances improperly exploited plaintiff’s name and likeness, as a celebrity, for defendant’s commercial advertising and purposes of trade, without authorization.

The suit goes on to state that Katherine Heigl’s films have grossed over $1B and she continues to be in high demand, therefore she refuses to have her likeness being used without her permission to promote a product. To Heigl’s credit, she has made it clear filing the suit that the issue is not about the money, but rather her privacy. She stated that if she does receive any compensation from the case, the funds will go to her animal rescue charity.

What This Lawsuit Means for Social Media Strategy

Everyone involved in corporate social media strategy should pay very close attention to how this case plays out. These aren’t the days of spending a week to film a 30 second commercial promoting your drug store. With the rise of social media, companies are constantly trying to find new and out of the box ways to market their brand to potential consumers.

Last week, we talked about Samsung using a professional athlete to snap a photo with the President of the United States, who did not realize that it was a marking ploy. This week, we are seeing a celebrity going about her normal life, which is now being used as an online billboard without her knowledge or consent. We don’t yet know how this lawsuit will play out, but it does raise interesting questions of liability in social media strategy and advertisement. This case could be the tipping point that finally lays down some ground rules as to what is legal to post on social media.