Carmen Electra, joined by models Dessie Mitcheson and Lucy Pinder, sued a Colorado strip club over the club’s allegedly unauthorized use of its photographs on its website and social media in late January of this year. The aggrieved trio claims that the Denver club “Shotgun Willie’s” posted photos of the models in online advertisements for the club in violation of the false advertising and false endorsement provisions of the Lanham Act and—in the case of Pinder—state common law rights of privacy and publicity. Their complaint accuses Shotgun Willie’s of “capitalizing on Plaintiffs’ goodwill by promoting Shotgun Willie’s and its activities and attracting clientele to Shotgun Willie’s, thereby generating revenue for the Defendant to the detriment of the Plaintiffs” and notes that “Defendant’s customers are the same demographic that view [the models’] images in print and online.” They seek actual and compensatory damages, disgorgement of any profits Shotgun Willie’s garnered as a result of its use of the disputed photos, attorneys’ fees, and treble damages under the Lanham Act. Shotgun Willie’s has yet to respond to the suit.
Takeaway: The Lanham Act authorizes an award of treble damages for intentional violations of the statute. Seeking enhanced damages may be more feasible where there is a known overlap of the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ consumers.