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Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa takes Twitter to Court, Will Probably Lose

Tony La Russa

Tony La Russa

The name, image, and likeness of a celebrity or sports figure is viewed by the courts to be the intellectual property of that particular individual.  With the creation of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, individual’s intellectual property in their names  have the possibility of being infringed upon in a new medium.  Tony La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals manager, is the first well known celebrity or sports figure to sue Twitter for the actions of an individual who used a name or likeness that didn’t belong to them on a Twitter page. http://www.law.com/jsp/law/careercenter/lawArticleCareerCenter.jsp?id=1202431321477&rss=careercenter

La Russa alleges that an unknown person had been tastelessly using his name and image, tweeting from an account named “TonyLaRussa.”  La Russa’s suit claims that the impersonator is ruining his reputation among other things.  In order to win a case for trademark infringement La Russa would have to prove that the average viewer of the fake Twitter page would confuse the postings as being those of the actual La Russa.  Therefore, because of the nature of the posts (making fun of his drunk driving, and a Cardinals pitcher who had died earlier) it is unlikely that the average person would be confused that the actual La Russa made the offensive “tweets.”

La Russa could have also brought some torts claims against the individual posters who made the tweets for misappropriation of his name and likeness and being portrayed in a false light.  The false light claim would have the best chance to succeed as he would have to prove (1) publication, (2) of views he doesn’t believe, (3) which are objectionable to reasonable person.  Misappropriation of name or likeness requires a person to use another’s name or image for profit which did not happen in this case.  The outcome of a suit of this type would probably be up to a jury to decide.

Celebrities and athletes should be careful in suing their own fans and those that actually follow their careers, especially if any damage is minimal as it is in this case.  Suing fans of the game, could cause a backlash and project a negative image upon a person or sport.  La Russa should have accepted that Twitter agreed to remove the page from the site and move on with his life.  This is a frivolous claim that he will probably lose.

UPDATE 7/7/09:  La Russa pulls Twitter suit –  http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202432045385&rss=newswire

 

 
 
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