If One Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words is it Also Worth 2 Billion Dollars?

The Chipotle restaurant chain is being sued in the U.S. District Court of Colorado for using the picture of a woman dining at a Chipotle restaurant in their national advertising campaigns over the past 10 years. She is asking for an award in her case of 2 Billion Dollars.

Without going into the details of the lawsuit, I would like to discuss the risk to those engaged in E-Commerce sales. Courts have long held that individuals do not have a right to privacy when their picture is taken in a public setting. That is what keeps the paparazzi in business.

However, about half the states have enacted laws preventing companies from using those pictures taken in a public setting from being used to advertise and promote their products. Called the “Right of Publicity”; an individual has the ability to control the commercial use of their name and image.

Whether Chipotle is at risk of losing a 2 Billion Dollar lawsuit is still under review by the District Court. However, it is surely true that Chipotle is going to spend many thousands of dollars in legal fees for their actions.

Therefore, I would like to remind everyone engaged in E-Commerce to make sure that they remember this tale of woe before using pictures of individuals on their websites without first getting an agreement in writing that they may do so.