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Onassis v. Christian Dior-New York, Inc. - 122 Misc. 2d 603, 472 N.Y.S.2d 254 (Sup. Ct. 1984)


Once the violation of N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 51 is established, the plaintiff may have an absolute right to injunction, regardless of the relative damage to the parties. 


Plaintiff was a former First Lady of the United States and a well-known personality in her own right. She moved for a preliminary injunction to restrain defendants from using or distributing a certain advertisement that included her likeness in the form of a photograph of her lookalike. Defendants were involved with an advertising campaign to promote certain designer products and image. Defendants opposed the motion and contended that the advertisement had already appeared and that it was not scheduled for republication. However, they declined to enter into any formal stipulation to that effect


Was the plaintiff entitled to an injunction on the alleged violation of her to privacy on the use of defendant her “lookalike” for commercial purposes?




Section 51 of the Civil Rights Law goes on to provide civil remedies for violation as well, including injunction and damages.  "Any person whose name, portrait or picture is used within this state for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without the written consent first obtained as above provided may maintain an equitable action in the supreme court of this state against the person, firm   or corporation so using his name, portrait or picture, to prevent and restrain the use thereof; and may also sue and recover damages for any injuries sustained by reason of such use and if the defendant shall have knowingly used such person's name, portrait or picture in such manner as is forbidden or declared to be unlawful by section fifty of this article, the jury, in its discretion, may award exemplary damages".The court determined that the picture of a well-known personality, used in an advertisement and instantly recognizable, would serve as a badge of approval for the products. The court held that plaintiff's identity was impermissibly misappropriated for the purpose of trade. It granted an order reassuring plaintiff against any future publication and enjoined the lookalike from appearing in commercial advertisements masquerading as plaintiff. The essential purpose of the statute must be carried out by giving it a commonsense reading which bars easy evasion. If we truly value the right of privacy in a world of exploitation, where every mark of distinctiveness becomes grist for the mills of publicity, then we must give it more than lip service and grudging recognition. Let the word go forth -- there is no free ride. The commercial hitchhiker seeking to travel on the fame of another will have to learn to pay the fare or stand on his own two feet.

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