- 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.
“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)
Taylor Swift Uses Leaked Kanye Call to Raise Money for Coronavirus Relief Efforts
- Over the weekend, the full-length footage of the phone call between Taylor Swift and Kanye West about his song “Famous” emerged online.
- The call seemed to back up Swift’s original story that she didn’t know West would call her a “bitch” in the song, years after Kim Kardashian released snippets of the footage that seemed to indicate otherwise.
- Both Swift and Kardashian acknowledged the drama and the larger crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Some were critical of Kardashian for seeming to focus more on the drama and only offering to donate 20% of her profits to emergency response efforts, while Swift quickly directed followers to donation pages unrelated to her.
Background of Taylor-Kim-Kanye Feud
Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, odds are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the drama between Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian West, and her husband, Kanye West.
But just for good measure, here’s the gist of it:
It all started in 2009, when pop star Taylor Swift accepted an award for “best video by a female artist” at the MTV Video Music Awards. She was interrupted by Kanye West coming on stage, saying the infamous four words, “Im’a let you finish,” before proceeding to imply, in front of the crowd and on television, that Beyonce Knowles should have won the award instead. The moment stunned Swift and many of her fans.
Then, in 2016, West dropped his song “Famous,” referencing the incident and Swift directly by name.
“For all my southside n***** that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” West raps in the hit.
According to a report from TMZ, Kanye said that Swift had approved the song before it was released. Swift denied this through a publicist.
“Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” Swift’s representative Tree Paine told The New York Times. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message.”
“Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous,’” Tree Paine added.
Meanwhile, West maintained that he received Swift’s approval. Months later, the feud got worse when Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian West released bits of the phone call between the two musicians, defending her husband and claiming Swift actually did okay the song.
This resulted in a lot of backlash for Swift, with many slamming her and accusing her of lying, and Swift said in her recent documentary “Miss Americana” that the whole affair made her want to “disappear.”
Stars Acknowledge Developments, Point to Coronavirus
Over the weekend, the full-length, 25-minute phone call between West and Swift from years ago was somehow leaked and made its rounds on social media, appearing to back up Swift’s claim that she didn’t know about the line referring to her as a “bitch.”
There’s actually one part of the call where Swift is relieved he didn’t use that word, saying “I thought it was going to be like, ‘That stupid, dumb bitch.’ But it’s not.”
From listening to Kim’s snippets of the call released in 2016 alone, it was not known whether the pair of musicians talked about the use of the word “bitch.”
The hashtags #KimKardashianIsOver Party and #KanyeWestIsOverParty were trending over the weekend, imitating the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag that populated in 2016 after Kardashian leaked snippets of the call. After several days of online reactions, both Swift and Kardashian finally spoke out about it.
Swift posted to her Instagram story Monday night, acknowledging the leaked footage and how the controversy has negatively impacted her over the years. However, Swift quickly pointed attention to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that seems to be mentioned in nearly every other headline.
“Instead of answering those who are asking how I feel about video footage that was leaked, proving that I was telling the truth the whole time about *that call* (you know, the one that was illegally recorded, that somebody edited and manipulated in order to frame me and put me, my family, and fans through hell for 4 years),” Swift wrote. “Swipe up to see what really matters.“
Upon swiping up, viewers could access a donation page for Feeding America, a non-profit organization devoted to providing food to those in need. Swift also pushed her followers to donate to the World Health Organization.
“If you have the ability to, please join me in donating during this crisis,” Swift wrote.
Several hours later, Kardashian West posted her take on the matter with a much longer message. She wrote across her Instagram stories and Twitter page, also referencing the coronavirus outbreak.
“Taylor Swift has chosen to reignite an old exchange – that at this point in time feels very self-serving given the suffering millions of real victims are facing right now,” Kardashian West wrote.
Kim went on to continue her defense of herself and her husband.
“To be clear, the only issue I ever had around the situation was that Taylor lied through her publicist who stated that “Kanye never called to ask for permission…” They clearly spoke so I let you all see that. Nobody ever denied the word ‘bitch’ was used without her permission,” Kardashian West wrote.
Kim also addressed accusations made against her of altering the story by only releasing bits of the footage in 2016.
“I never edited the footage (another lie) – I only posted a few clips on Snapchat to make my point and the full video that recently leaked doesn’t change the narrative,” Kardashian West wrote.
Internet Users React
Many took to social media to praise Swift for the way she handled the most recent development in the feud by trying to point it away from herself and onto the more serious matter of the coronavirus.
Some Twitter users argued that while Kardashian West tried to do the same, she missed the mark.
Others also compared Taylor’s urging of donations with no monetary gain for herself, while criticizing Kim for only donating 20% of her SKIMS profits to a COVID-19 emergency response program.
Stfu Kim. Taylor’s our here donating to the coronavirus victims and you will only donate 20% if people buy skims. That says enough.— Liz Kelly (@LizKelly16) March 24, 2020
You are trying to turn a profit on CoronaVirus? Jesus Wept.— 💧Tarynne (@Tarynned) March 24, 2020
And some criticized Kim for equating Swift’s documentary, “Miss Americana,” and the questionably-legal phone call that Kanye recorded as documentations of musical journey and process.
Ultimately though, even though some good may come of it as people are urged by famous voices to contribute to a good cause, it appeared some users were just plain tired of hearing about the rehashed drama in general.
“In 2020, we can’t escape the coronavirus and we also can’t escape Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s tiring feud,” one user wrote.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Variety)
TV Medical Dramas Are Donating Supplies to Hospitals Fighting COVID-19
- In an effort to help medical professionals facing equipment shortages, TV shows like “Greys Anatomy,” “Station 19,” and others are donating their stock of supplies.
- This comes as companies like Apple, Facebook, Tesla, L’Oreal, and others redirect efforts to produce or donate essential goods like hand sanitizers, masks, and ventilators.
- The White House has not ordered companies to produce emergency equipment under the Defense Production Act, despite calls from politicians and medical associations.
- But the lack of supplies has become dire, with NYC’s mayor saying, “If we don’t get ventilators this week, we are going to start losing lives we could have saved.”
Medical Shows Donate
Hospitals around the globe have been working tirelessly to treat the growing cases of coronavirus, all while dealing with shortages of masks, gloves, and other essential medical supplies. Now, several TV shows are stepping in to do what they can to support those on the frontlines of this pandemic.
ABC representative said several of its shows were donating their stock of highly-needed goods. “At ‘Station 19,’ we were lucky enough to have about 300 of the coveted N95 masks which we donated to our local fire station. They were tremendously grateful,” the representative said.
Those masks were given a station in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood, as well as the Ontario, California Fire Department where firefighters were having to reuse masks because of the shortage.
ABC’s “Greys Anatomy,” one of several shows forced to halt productions amid the pandemic, also donated its backstock of gowns and gloves from its costume department to local L.A. hospitals. Meanwhile, “The Good Doctor,” donated surgical masks, surgical gowns, face shields, soap, disposable booties, disposable isolation suits, latex gloves, and medical caps to Vancouver Coastal Health.
“We are all overwhelmed with gratitude for our healthcare workers during this incredibly difficult time, and in addition to these donations, we are doing our part to help them by staying home,” ABC added in its statement.
But donations didn’t stop there, NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” which films in New York hospitals, donated masks, gloves, and gowns to the New York State Department of Health. This news came after actor Daniel Dae Kim, who just scored a recurring role on the show, announced he was diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
FOX’s medical drama “The Resident” made a donation of gowns, glows, scrubs, shoe covers, lab coats, masks, and other items to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where the show is filmed. Showrunner Amy Holden Jones told The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s pretty appalling to think that our doctors and nurses at hospitals don’t have the proper protection — they’re facing these patients who are highly contagious without being protected.”
Other Shows Follow Suit
Even non-medical shows are stepping in help. FX’s “Pose” donated supplies it had from some of its episodes. In an Instagram post the show’s creator Ryan Murphy wrote, “One of our regular sets and locations is a hospital where in Season 3 Blanca works as an AIDS/HIV counselor. Today, we donated all our prop supplies to Mount Sinai hospital to help nurses and doctors battling the Covid outbreak. Let’s all keep giving when and where and how we can.”
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On my FX series POSE, one of our regular sets and locations is a hospital where in season 3 (spoiler) Blanca works as an AIDS/hiv counselor. Today we donated all our prop supplies to Mount Sinai hospital to help nurses and doctors battling the Covid outbreak. Let’s all keep giving when and where and how we can. More to come…
“Filthy Rich,” a satirical dramedy that airs on Fox, said it was planning to make a donation of cleaning supplies and food pallets.
Businesses Help as Situation Becomes Dire
Several other shows have been turning over what they can while businesses think of ways to redirect their efforts toward helping healthcare workers. For example, brands like L’Oréal Group,
Coty Inc, and perfume makers like Givenchy and Dior, are using their facilities to produce hand sanitizers to give to French and European health authorities for free.
At a press conference on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence said Apple would donate two million respirator mask to help in the fight against COVID-19. CEO Tim Cook later confirmed that claim on Twitter.
And even the clothing company Hanes is retrofitting factories to make masks. Facebook also said it would give its emergency reserve of 720,000 masks to health workers. The company had initially bought them in case the wildfires in California continued. Zuckerberg said the company is also “working on sourcing millions of more to donate.”
Meanwhile. Tesla has been donating supplies to medical centers in need and its CEO Elon Musk said his company is making ventilators. He expects to have over 1,200 to distribute this week.
These are just some of the companies volunteering their efforts. The White House has not demanded that companies produce emergency gear, which the president can do under the Defense Production Act. Despite calls from politicians and medical associations for the president to use the DPA, the administration has only encouraged companies to donate what they can.
When President Trump signed the DPA last week, he said he will only use it as a “worst-case scenario.”
Over the weekend he said he hasn’t needed to use the DPA because of all the help from companies stepping up so far.
Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government had placed orders for “hundreds of millions” of the N95 face masks, though it is unclear when that supplies will arrive and if it will be available before facilities start getting completely overwhelmed by patients.
As each day passes, it’s becoming more and more apparent how dire the shortages are in some areas. Earlier this week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated that the city had enough supplies to make it into April, but now he says there is only enough to get through this week.
In an interview with CNN Monday, he said called on anyone with equipment to donate, saying, “If we don’t get ventilators this week, we are going to start losing lives we could have saved. I can’t be blunter than that.”
On top of that, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned Monday that the coronavirus outbreak will worsen this week, as he encouraged Americans to stay home. “I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad,” Adams said in an interview on the “TODAY” show.
“Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. So, test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else. Or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home.”
See what others are saying: (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Verge)
Celebrities Without Symptoms Find Quick Access to Coronavirus Tests While General Public Struggles
- Everyday Americans are having a hard time getting tested for the coronavirus, but celebrities don’t seem to be facing the same troubles.
- Kris Jenner, NBA athletes, and influencers have all been able to get tested, in many cases, without showing any symptoms.
- Meanwhile, in hospitals all over the country, severely ill patients are being told there are simply not enough tests.
- This has led to a large online discussion about inequality and the impact it’s had on the severity of this pandemic.
The NBA’s Advantage
While the general American public is struggling to get tested for the novel coronavirus, celebrities seem to have easy access to tests.
According to NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, eight full teams have been tested for COVID-19. The Brooklyn Nets, for instance, were just one of several teams who faced backlash for their ability to get a large number of tests and speedy results.
The Nets announced Tuesday that four players, including Kevin Durant, tested positive for the virus. Three of those four players displayed no symptoms.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that wealthy athletes who show no symptoms should not have ready access to these tests while severely ill people all over the country cannot get their hands on them.
The Nets have defended their ability to test players, saying that their close proximity and frequent travel justifies the need for testing. They also said they acquired the test privately as to not strain the CDC of its public resources.
During a press conference, President Donald Trump was asked about large quantities of NBA players so easily getting the tests, and whether or not this was fair.
“No I wouldn’t say so,” he responded. “But perhaps that’s been the story of life.”
Celebrities Find Tests
Athletes are not alone in having an easy time getting tested, with or without symptoms. Reality star Kris Jenner told Entertainment Tonight that she tested negative, after receiving one despite feeling just fine.
Jenner had previously attended the birthday party of someone who contracted the virus. That party, however, was 16 days before Jenner announced she took the test.
Actor Idris Elba also took the test without symptoms, though it is unclear if he was tested in the United States, where the public has been specifically feeling the impacts of a lack of testing.
Not all stars who had access to tests were asymptomatic. New York-based fashion influencer Arielle Charnas told her Instagram followers that she had been feeling ill herself. She was able to call on her friend, Dr. Jake Deutsch, who is the founder of an urgent care network.
Her test came back positive, but it was that connection to a higher-up medical professional that helped her finally learn that result.
Some celebrities have had to jump through hoops to get their tests. Model and host Heidi Klum said she had symptoms that were in line with coronavirus, but was told by two doctors she could not be tested. Not long after her messages were shared, she was able to update her followers that both she and her husband were tested. Some believe her far reach online could have given her an advantage in getting those tests.
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Like many of you, I also have been sick all week and, unfortunately, my husband who returned from his tour a couple of days ago is also feeling ill. To be safe, we are staying apart until we get the results of our Coronavirus tests (that we were finally able to get today) back. We don’t want to spread germs and risk others getting sicker… even each other! As much as I want to embrace him and kiss him, it is more important to do the right thing and not spread further. ❤️ These are strange times… but in these moments, you remember what’s really important- the people you love and keeping them safe. Social distancing is what we all need to do right now to be responsible citizens of the world. We are all in this together and it is up to us to protect our loved ones, and our neighbors and our communities. Please listen to the officials and stay at home if you can and physically distance yourself from other people… especially if you are not feeling well. I see all the beautiful things people are doing for each other all over the globe and that gives me hope! Sending all of you love and positivity and healing vibes… together we can get through this but we need to be proactive so that we can all have a bright and healthy future. 🥰😷✌🏻🧼❤️ #socialdistancing #washyourhands #stayput #bekindtoeachother
Everyday People Struggle
The dynamic of the wealthy and famous seemingly being able to use their status to get this medical care has ignited outrage online. The rest of the public is dealing with severe shortages of tests, no matter how sick they are.
One Twitter user said their brother had respiratory problems and a high fever but was told to simply quarantine because there are not enough tests.
Others have just wondered how celebrities without symptoms can get tests if there is a nationwide shortage.
Doctors have also chimed in, saying that it is frustrating to see their patients struggling while celebrities are not.
BuzzFeed compiled tweets and photos from those facing difficulties in hospitals to make a startling comparison to the breezier situations of the elite. Some Twitter users posted photos of them in hospital beds, looking ill, but still being denied testing.
I’m sitting in a hospital bed possibly with #COVID19 and I can’t get tested even though the entire nursing and doctor staff thinks I should. It’s not the hospitals.@jaketapper @RepSteveStivers @senrobportman @SenSherrodBrown pic.twitter.com/5KtXoLWgjU— Rob Michaels (@robmichaelsII) March 17, 2020
Meanwhile, people like Charles Barkley has people telling him “they didn’t want [him] to take any chances,” resulting in him getting quickly tested.
And he’s not alone, other reality stars, influencers, and even politicians are able to find tests for themselves, while everyone else is told that there are just not enough. Some have acknowledged this, with Charnas addressing her privilege on Instagram.
“I realize that there are many individuals, both in New York City and nationwide, who do not have the ability to receive immediate medical care,” she wrote. “I acknowledge how lucky I am to have had that access.”