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Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock Sue Over Phony Endorsements

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  • Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have filed a joint lawsuit against individuals and entities who use their likeness to create fake endorsements of products, in an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry.”
  • Fake celebrity endorsements have become more common thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 
  • For years celebs have issued cease-and-desist orders, but these companies operate quickly, taking down one site only to replace it with another soon after.

Stars File Lawsuit

Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock are fed up with websites using their likeness without consent to falsely promote their products 

The two filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court as part of an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry,” which they say has become a major issue for stars in the digital age. 

DeGeneres and Bullock are specifically going after scammers in the affiliate marketing industry who direct traffic to e-commerce sites by creating phony advertisements. 

The two have issued a “right of publicity” claim, saying that these individuals and entities use their names and likeness for false advertising of products like face creams, anti-aging serums, dietary supplements, and more. 

But these obscure internet companies have proven to be difficult to go after. For two years, representatives for DeGeneres and Bullock have sent out cease-and-desist orders, but once one site is taken down, another pops up in its place under a slightly different name or form.  

“These companies change names frequently, merge in and out of entities formed in states that allow for secrecy, operate websites that pop up and disappear overnight, and generally do everything possible to ‘stay one step ahead of the sheriff,’” the complaint said, according to The New York Times. 

Because DeGeneres and Bullock don’t know for sure who exactly is behind the fraud, the defendants have been listed as John Does 1 through 100 and their lawyers can now issue subpoenas to undercover them. 

The Era of Affiliate Marketing and Scams 

Their lawsuit brings the issue of fake celebrity endorsements to the forefront, a problem that has become especially more rampant for Hollywood stars thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for online figures to earn money by promoting products and directing consumers to the online seller. In most cases, a click that generates a sale can earn the publisher a commission, though other types of compensation arrangements are sometimes also agreed upon. 

It can be a very powerful marketing tool, especially when those promoting a product have built a strong reputation for trustworthiness with their audience.

According to estimates from Forrester Consulting, by next year the affiliate industry will be a $6.8 billion business, And while most participants are legitimate, others are not. Some take advantage of celebrities who have developed a strong reputation, as well as consumers who they may hold influence over. 

Bullock and DeGeneres aren’t alone in being targeted by these shady websites. Stars over 40 whom the public considers trustworthy or admirable are often used for these scams, including celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Kelly Ripa, and Denzel Washington, who is often used to falsely promote erectile dysfunction pills.  

As The Times points out, bombarding the web with these fake endorsements can actually be damaging to a celebrity’s reputation and hurt their ability to secure legitimate endorsement deals. 

How It’s Done 

A common trick these scammers use involves setting up websites “designed to look like legitimate and independent news reports or magazine articles about various Beauty products,” the complaint says. 

Then they post real images of celebrities that have been doctored to become a fake endorsement. The lawsuit points to some examples, like one image of Bullock appearing on NBC’s Today show to promote a film. The image was converted into an ad that read: “Sandra Bullock Talks About Her New Skin Care Line,” despite the fact that Bullock has never had a skincare line.

The ad is then accompanied by a link that leads to a site selling the celebrity’s supposed product.

Another example in the suit shows that ads include fabrications like: “Sandra even admitted that plastic surgeons are furious with her after noticing a large decline in patients.” 

In their complaint, DeGeneres and Bullock listed 40 beauty products that have been sold online with their names fraudulently linked.

Source: The New York Times

“The celebrity endorsement-theft business model is based on a scheme to trick consumers into disclosing their credit card and/or debit card information in order to enroll them in costly programs with undisclosed, or poorly disclosed, recurring charges,” Bullock and DeGeneres said in the complaint. Ads for the products “typically include unsubstantiated claims that the products will lead to dramatic results,” they continued.

Many of these fake ads also offer free trials, but the complaint says that in reality, customers are often charged full price. 

According to a 2018 report from the Better Business Bureau, offers of free trials put forward through this type of marketing “have infested the internet and social media” and cost more than a million victims upward of $1.3 billion over the past decade. 

Along with claiming violations of their rights of publicity in the suit, DeGeneres and Bullock are claiming false advertising and unfair competition. The lawsuit demands an injunction and compensatory damages. First, though, the suit seems designed to kick off an investigation into responsibility for the marketing. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Los Angeles Times

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Former “Real Housewives” Star Bethenny Frankel Sues TikTok Over Ads Misusing Likeness

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The reality star said social media has become “a breeding ground for scams.”


TikTok Hit With Class Action Suit

Businesswoman and reality star Bethenny Frankel filed a class action lawsuit against TikTok on Thursday, accusing the social media app of platforming fraudulent ads that misuse the identities of influencers. 

According to the lawsuit, several videos “purloined the images, voices, and content” of Frankel and others in an effort “to sell counterfeit items.” 

Frankel claims that one advertisement used footage of her to make it appear as though she was endorsing a knockoff cardigan, even though she never authorized the use of her image. According to the lawsuit, Frankel attempted to warn her followers that the ad was misusing her persona, but TikTok allegedly removed that video for being “abusive.”

“Despite demands on TikTok to remove and police this corrupt conduct, TikTok has ignored such demands, and even taken countervailing positions,” the lawsuit claims. “Aside from not being compensated, the reputation and brand of Ms. Frankel and Class Members are being damaged and tarnished through unauthorized associations with counterfeit goods and other products that they do not support.”

It further alleged that TikTok is “unlawfully” allowing the use of Frankel’s “persona, voice, content, and likeness” in a manner that “constitutes unfair competition and deceptive trade practices.”

In addition to previously starring on “The Real Housewives of New York,” Frankel is also the founder of lifestyle and food brand Skinnygirl, and disaster relief initiative BStrong. 

The Wild West of Social Media

In a TikTok video last month, the former Real Housewife told her followers she was considering taking legal action against the video app. As for why she took her complaints up with TikTok as opposed to the brands behind the sham ads, she said that the bigger issue is “the wild wild west of social media.”

This is something that has to be addressed because it’s a breeding ground for scams,” she said. 

After the fake ads appeared to show Frankel giving the knockoff cardigan a thumbs up, many of her followers thought she “sold out” by “hocking” the product. According to Frankel, TikTok offers little help in repairing the issue. 

“There’s nobody to call at TikTok,” she said. “You know, calling China, you’re reporting something, it’s like small potatoes.”

After news broke that she filed the class action complaint, Frankel posted a statement to Instagram saying her demands “for creators and consumers is correct and just.”

“Consumers and creators are being exploited with no recourse or power to defend and protect themselves,” Frankel wrote. “That ends now.”

“Social media, and its impact as the most powerful medium on the planet, cannot be a reckless marketplace where people risk their rights and privacy being violated without protection.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Insider) (Reuters)

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Halyna Hutchins Family Settles With “Rust” Production, Filming to Resume in 2023

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Alec Baldwin said everyone involved was motivated by the “desire to do what is best for Halyna’s son.”


Settlement Reached

The family of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was fatally shot on the set of “Rust” last year, reached a settlement with the production over a wrongful death lawsuit on Wednesday. 

The lawsuit was filed in February, several months after Hutchins’ death in New Mexico last October. The cast and crew were rehearsing a scene that involved producer and actor Alec Baldwin pointing a gun toward the camera. Baldwin claims he did not know it was loaded when it fired, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. 

The actor also claims he did not actually pull the trigger, but investigators determined it must have been pulled. 

Hutchins’ husband Matthew filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of himself and his young son. It claimed that the production did not follow proper safety procedures and endangered the crew via reckless cost-cutting measures. Baldwin was listed as a defendant, as well as the set’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, first assistant director, Dave Halls, and others involved with the film. 

The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, but as part of the agreement, the production of “Rust” will resume in January 2023. The late cinematographer’s husband will join the project as an executive producer. 

“I have no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame (to the producers or Mr. Baldwin),” he said in a statement. “All of us believe Halyna’s death was a terrible accident. I am grateful that the producers and the entertainment community have come together to pay tribute to Halyna’s final work.”

A Tribute to Hutchins

Souza will return as the director. In a statement, he said his “every effort on this film will be devoted to honoring” Hutchins.

For his part, Baldwin shared the news of the settlement on his Instagram Wednesday morning.

“Throughout this difficult process, everyone has maintained the specific desire to do what is best for Halyna’s son,” he wrote. “We are grateful to everyone who contributed to the resolution of this tragic and painful situation.”

According to The Los Angeles Times, while Gutierrez-Reed and Halls were not part of the settlement, if a judge approves it, the allegations against them will be resolved.

There is still an ongoing criminal probe happening separately from this lawsuit. It is unclear what impact the settlement will have on that, if any. 

Last month, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies sent a letter to the New Mexico Board of Finance seeking additional funding to prosecute up to four people over the incident, including Baldwin. So far, no charges have been filed. 

In April, the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau fined the production after it found multiple safety violations on set. 

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (The Hollywood Reporter) (Deadline)

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The Try Guys Address Removal of Ned Fulmer: “We Had No Idea This Was Going On”

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The group said that by severing ties with Fulmer, it felt like they were losing a friend. 


“That Is Not What We Stand For”

Digital comedy and sketch group The Try Guys posted a video on Monday night explaining the recent removal of member Ned Fulmer. 

Last week, the Internet was filled with speculation that Fulmer, who is married with children, was having an affair with a staffer for The Try Guys. Fulmer confirmed the reports, claiming he had a “consensual workplace relationship.” The Try Guys quickly announced that Fulmer would no longer be working with the group as the result of an internal review. 

In Monday’s video, the remaining three members, Eugene Lee Yang, Zach Kornfeld, and Keith Habersberger, explained what led to their decision to remove Fulmer. While the trio noted there were legal issues that prevented them from sharing certain details, they wanted to be as transparent as possible. 

“On Labor Day weekend, multiple fans alerted us that they had seen Ned and an employee engaging in public romantic behavior,” Habersberger explained. “We reached out to check on that employee and Ned confirmed the reports, and since confirmed that this had been going on for some time, which was obviously very shocking to us.”

He emphasized that the rest of the group “had no idea this was going on.” 

After this, The Try Guys reached out to a variety of lawyers and HR professionals to make sure they handled the situation correctly. 

“This is something we took very seriously,” Yang said. “We refused to sweep things under the rug. That is not who we are, and that is not what we stand for.” 

Removing Fulmer From Content

They decided to immediately remove Fulmer from work activities and hired an HR rep to conduct a review. Fulmer was also withdrawn from releases pending the results of that review. 

As part of this, his video section was erased, he was digitally taken out of some content, and he was not included in merch drops. The Try Guys said this was a long and tedious process. 

“Honestly, I want to give major props to our editing staff for how deftly they handled that,” Kornfeld said. “There are several videos that we have deemed as fully unreleasable, you will never see them, and that is due to his involvement. And that is a decision that has cost us lots of money.” 

“We will not be able to recoup that money,” he continued. “But it’s a decision we stand by proudly.” 

The group declined to share details of the review but claimed it found that Fulmer engaged in “conduct unbecoming” of the team. Because of this, Yang, Kornfeld, and Habersberger gave written consent on Sept. 16 to ax Fulmer as a manager and employee of The Try Guys company. 

The three said they were always planning to make a public statement about their decision, but were initially waiting out of respect to the families and employees involved. As online speculation arose, they chose to deal with it sooner. 

“We’re losing a friend, we’re losing someone we built a company with, we have countless memories with, we just made a TV show together,” Kornfeld said. “I’m sure many of you feel the same way.” 

According to the group, some upcoming videos featuring Fulmer will be edited to remove him. They said they are currently taking time to reimagine their channel. 

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (People) (Deadline)

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