Paris Hilton settled a lawsuit with Hallmark over Hallmark’s use of her image and a trademarked catchphrase, “That’s hot,” in a greeting card. First Amendment advocates said the settlement had dire implications for free expression. -db
The Kansas City Star
September 27, 2010
By Diane Stafford
She may be famous for being famous, but she still has a right to control some uses of her face, name and trademarks.
Paris Hilton and Hallmark Cards Inc. have settled a three-year-old lawsuit in which Hilton sued the company for using her image and trademarked catchphrase, “That’s hot,” on a greeting card.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the Hollywood Reporter said Hilton got a “favorable package.”
The lawsuit had sought a half-million dollars.
Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O’Dell said Monday the company would not breach confidentiality by commenting further.
The case, involving a “celebutante” whom most people would say gets too much publicity, nonetheless drew the attention of First Amendment scholars who saw it as a classic right-of-publicity case.
Such cases revolve around an individual’s right to the commercial value attached to one’s name, likeness or other form of identification.
Attorneys for Hallmark had defended the card as parody and had attempted to get a California circuit court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it was a so-called SLAPP suit — a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”
Hallmark lawyers also had claimed that the use of Hilton’s face atop a cartoonish image was “transformative” — a First Amendment-based defense that the image was changed enough that it became the card maker’s own expression.
A year ago, an appellate court rejected a Hallmark defense that the card had a “public interest” defense. The three-judge panel rejected that defense because a birthday card “does not publish or report information.”
The case was remanded to a lower court, and a trial date had been set for December.
Hilton’s lawsuit had alleged that Hallmark misappropriated her image and the saying she frequently used on her reality television show, “The Simple Life.”
Hilton obtained a trademark on “That’s hot” in 2007, a few months before the lawsuit was filed.
Writing earlier this year about the case, First Amendment specialist David L. Hudson Jr. predicted that “if Hilton’s publicity claim succeeds, then Hallmark cannot make cards that spoof celebrities without compensating them. Publicity rights will have defeated the First Amendment right to free expression.”
In the blogosphere, reactions to the settlement varied from disdain that an heiress could get money from a “ridiculous lawsuit” to defending Hilton’s legal right to control use of her image — no matter how often she appears in the public domain.
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