Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock team up in lawsuit against fake endorsements
Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock are teaming up and taking aim at “pop up websites” accused of using their name and likeness for unauthorized product endorsements.
The pair filed a joint lawsuit against 100 anonymous defendants, both individuals and entities, on Wednesday. The complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court aims to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry, which preys upon unsuspecting consumers, and exploits the names, images, likenesses and personas of well-known celebrities who have not authorized or been compensated for such use.”
The joint lawsuit alleges the fake sites “feature comments and endorsements purportedly from Bullock and DeGeneres — all of which are fake and fraudulent and published without Plaintiffs’ consent.”
The talk show host and Academy Award-winning actress want to take down websites who use their likeness without their authorization in order to increase traffic or sales. The women say their images and personas are mostly used to push beauty wares like anti-aging serum and weight-loss products.
They say their biggest concern is the fact that these websites are operating without their consent and, therefore, violating their rights by engaging in false advertising.
Bullock and DeGeneres’s lawsuit says it used “actual examples taken from the Internet” to bolster their case, which showcases websites “designed to look like legitimate and independent news reports or magazine articles about various Beauty products.”
While the pair are seeking compensatory damages, it is unknown how much they are asking for. The two also request an injunction on the defendants.
In this digital age, many celebrities and media personalities have fallen victim and experienced celebrity endorsement theft, from Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar of “The View” to “GMA” anchors Robin Roberts, Amy Robach and Lara Spencer.
In November 2017, a federal court ordered three men, who the FTC alleged were behind ads making false claims that Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg of ABC’s “The View” were launching their own skincare lines, to pay $179 million dollars — the amount the FTC claimed consumers had paid for the products over more than five years. The judgment was ultimately suspended after the defendants paid nearly $6.4 million to the FTC.
In December 2018, when an ad claimed Spencer was leaving “GMA” to focus on a skincare line, she spoke out to say the product was not affiliated with her and was misleading consumers.
“It makes me very upset to have people think that I’m leaving a job that I love to do something that I have no idea about, I feel so violated,” Spencer said. “All of it is completely false. It makes me want to cry because this is my career, and it’s a fan base that trusts me.”
The FTC and Better Business Bureau (BBB) told ABC News that the issue is an uphill battle.
“Millions of people around the country have lost billions of dollars to this sort of fraud and it’s continuing all the time,” Steven Baker, an international investigations specialist for the BBB, told ABC News in December 2018 report.
“These sorts of scams, frauds often claim that they’re endorsed by celebrities or that celebrities are actually investing in them, for example that people have left their TV jobs to instead set up a skincare line,” he continued. “For people that become victims of this, a lot of the time the fact that somebody that’s famous… endorsed this… gives them a real strong feeling that this must be a legitimate.”
The BBB suggested tips on what consumers can look for to spot a deceptive online ad:
– a surprising celebrity endorsement
– extravagant claims about the product
– credit card needed for shipping and handling
– website with no contact information
– subscription information hidden in the fine print.
If a consumer believes they have seen a deceptive “free trial” offer ad, they are urged to report it and send a screenshot to the BBB at: www.bbb.org/adtruth. The BBB continues to build a database of crowdsourced information and work with the FTC and state attorneys general offices in an effort to identify those behind the ads and shut down companies.
In addition, the BBB instructs consumers to call their credit card company if they’ve been a victim.
Consumers should also file complaints with the FTC or their state’s attorney general.
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