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July 21, 2021 by in Hot Issues

In another strike against advertisers who use celebrity names and photographs without permission, Sacha Baron Cohen recently sued Solar Therapeutics, a cannabis products company, seeking at least $9 million.[1]  In this case, the defendant used a photograph of Baron Cohen’s widely recognized character Borat, and his trademark expression “Very Nice!,” on a huge billboard in Massachusetts to promote the sale of cannabis products.

Cohen’s claims include copyright infringement, violation of the right to publicity, and false endorsement.[2]  

This case follows several high-profile cases brought by Clint Eastwood,[3] Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Sandra Bullock, Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Jordan, Tom Waits, and others for the use of their names and likenesses to promote commercial activities – without their consent.

While the Borat case presents a brazen example of the unauthorized use of a celebrity’s photograph, image, and tag lines to sell products, more subtle unauthorized uses of celebrity images, names, and likenesses can still result in significant liability.

This case should serve as a reminder to companies that may consider using the name or likeness of celebrities, copyrighted characters, or similar works that are associated with famous individuals.  Any such usage requires express advanced permission – and often the payment of significant fees.

SLG has extensive experience advising clients in rights of publicity, social media, copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property matters.  We would be happy to assist your company navigate the possible pitfalls presented by these and other issues. For more information, please contact SLG at

Posted: July 21, 2021

[1]   Cohen v. Solar Therapeutics, Inc., Index No. 1:21-cv-11139 (D. Mass. July 12, 2021)

[2]   See Right of Publicity, Massachusetts Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 214 § 3A, False Endorsement, 15 U.S.C. §1125(a), and Copyright Infringement, 17 U.S.C. § 501.

[3]  “Clint Eastwood Sues Fraudsters for Using His Name and Image to Promote CBD Products,” SLG Resources (July 27, 2020)             his-name-and-image-to-promote-cbd-products/.

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