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Hasbro and a Hamster: Court Upholds Fox News Anchor’s Right to Publicity

Source: Grill IP patents news

Hamster-Hasbro-Motion-DismissedThe Littlest Pet Shop has encountered one not-too-pleased Fox News anchor. This month, the New Jersey District Court denied Hasbro Inc.’s motion to dismiss a right of publicity claim made by Harris Faulkner, a Fox News Channel personality. In Faulkner v. Hasbro Inc.,

the Court determined that a hamster doll belonging to the toy company’s Littlest Pet Shop franchise, bearing Faulkner’s “unusual celebrity name” was sufficient for the plaintiff to state her claim.

Hasbro’s “Littlest Pet Shop” toy line contains “miniature plastic animals with exaggerated features,” each of which has a “unique individualized name.” The company introduced a hamster character named “Harris Faulkner” into the Littlest Pet Shop line in 2014. Fox anchor Harris Faulkner promptly sued Hasbro, claiming direct and contributory liability for a false endorsement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act. She further charged the toy producer with violating her right of publicity according to New Jersey common law, arguing that Hasbro misappropriated her name, likeness, and persona for commercial use. In turn, she argued that such use diminished the commercial value of her persona, her ability to perform her job, and her professional marketability in the process.

Hasbro countered that only the right of publicity protects the value of Faulkner’s identity, not simply her name. Since, “other than her contention that the Hamster Toy uses the name ‘Harris Faulkner,’ the Complaint contains no plausible allegations to support Ms. Faulkner’s claim that the toy identified her or otherwise trades on her identity.” Using the name of someone has no bearing on their total persona, the company reasoned. The court disagreed, rejecting Hasbro’s motion. The decision notes that both Hasbro’s statements and Faulkner’s allegations “establish that when a character like the hamster doll is used for what it is intended – play – it may take on new dimensions when it is linked up with and ‘becomes’ a real person.” In an interesting interpretation, the court saw child’s play as a threat to the Fox News anchor’s identity.  Faulkner is entitled to present evidence that “as a child plays inside this fictionalized, highly interactive world, s/he may see or put into the girl hamster doll named Harris Faulkner the identity, persona and characteristics of the real Harris Faulkner.” Bearing in mind the commercial success of the Littlest Pet Shop franchise, “Faulkner’s allegation that this doll bears her unusual celebrity name sufficiently pleads a violation of the right of publicity.” In this case, a little plastic hamster has embroiled Hasbro in a whole lot of litigation.

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