Curious about a hypothetical situation
May 7, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

My neighbor has the same name as a certain celebrity. Hypothetically, would it be legal to publish quotes from him?

Let's pretend that my neighbor has the name Barack Obama. Suppose I published his quotes, and everybody thought it was from the more popular Barack Obama. Is that fraud? defamation? But it's true to begin with...

Again, this is just curiosity... there's no way I'm stupid enough to actually do this. Surprisingly, Google didn't help me with this question.
posted by cmcmcm to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Taco Bell did a campaign recently where they got people named Ronald McDonald to endorse their new breakfast menu. It wasn't trademark infringing because these people were legitimately named Ronald McDonald.

Also, this calls to mind a stunt that legendary Broadway producer David Merrick did with his musical "Subways Are For Sleeping". The show was panned by critics, but Merrick found people with the same names as prominent NY critics and got them to give him rave reviews. These blurbs were accompanied with a small photograph which exposed the ruse. But the stunt did work because of its audacity and the show turned a small profit.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'd say that as long as you never say or otherwise indicate that it is the President who is endorsing your product, then it's fine. It's not defamation as you wouldn't be alleging anything untrue. A famous Barack Obama doesn't get primacy over a shared name. Just don't get cute and put presidential regalia and bunting to otherwise mislead people more than you're suggesting. That might be construed as fraud.

Bottom line? Even if you're 100% in the right, you still might get sued. It doesn't mean they'll win, but you still might be on the hook for lawyer's fees to answer the lawsuit.
posted by inturnaround at 8:22 AM on May 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Related, misappropriated quotes are SUPER popular on Tumblr. I mean even Obama says cut it out! jk
posted by Gor-ella at 9:12 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

There was a really famous movie ad campaign back in the mid-60s in New York. The marketers found people in NYC who had the same name as the top critics of the day, and published full-page ads touting the film. They did, however, put photos next to each quote, to kind of play up the joke of what they were doing. It was semi scandalous because one of the fake reviewers was -- gasp! -- a Negro.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:19 AM on May 7, 2015

Oh - here's a thing about that campaign. It was for the movie Subways Are For Sleeping.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:21 AM on May 7, 2015

Best answer: Just a same-name situation on the face of it, no. People can have the same name. People can even change their name to someone else's name (especially if that person is a public figure) and run around being embarrassing on purpose.

If you were earning money from allowing people to think your neighbor's quotes were the celebrity's, the celebrity might have an action for misappropriation (or, in a few states, right of publicity) of their likeness. (This applies more to actors-type celebrities than political-type celebrities.)

There's a list of "personality rights" cases in the United States at this wikipedia link.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2015

Mayor Sam Adams of Portland, Oregon received a decease and desist letter from Sam Adams the beer company when Mayor Sam Adams launched his mayoral campaign.

But it went away quickly because his name really is Sam Adams.

So, the most likely scenario that will happen is that.
posted by zizzle at 9:27 AM on May 7, 2015

Tony Lama boots did an ad campaign in the 80s with this idea. If you have your neighbor's permission, sure.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2015

It would be a good idea to at least put some find print somewhere that makes it clear that the Barack Obama you are quoting is not the president.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 1:28 PM on May 7, 2015

Not the same thing, but related: Starbucks vs. Sambucks.
posted by soelo at 2:19 PM on May 7, 2015

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