- 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)
AJC Says Film “Richard Jewell” Falsely Depicts their Reporter
- Clint Eastwood’s new film Richard Jewell follows the man falsely accused of planting the Centennial Park bomb in 1996, with an angle that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution vigorously led the charge against him in their reporting on the case.
- The film implies that reporter Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, traded sex for a news tip.
- The AJC and colleagues of Scruggs claim this is false, and the paper is asking the filmmakers to add a disclaimer noting that elements of the story have been fabricated.
- Warner Brothers has defended the film and its depiction of both Jewell and the reporters who covered him. The movie will have a standard disclaimer at the end, as is typical with many films based on real-life events.
AJC Sends Letter to Warner Brothers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a letter to Warner Brothers requesting that they add a disclaimer before their new film Richard Jewell, saying the movie inaccurately depicts their reporter trading sex for a news tip.
The letter was sent to the studio, as well as the film’s director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray. Based on a Vanity Fair article, the film follows Richard Jewell, who became the FBI’s suspect in the 1996 Centennial Bombing in Atlanta after he reported a suspicious package and helped clear the area. The AJC was the first outlet to report that he was being considered a suspect. Jewell ended up being innocent.
The film implies that the journalist working on the story, Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, traded sex for information on Jewell’s case. The paper claims that this did not happen and that there is no evidence to support it.
“Such a portrayal makes it appear that the AJC sexually exploited its staff and/or that it facilitated or condoned offering sexual gratification to sources in exchange for stories,” the letter said. “That is entirely false and malicious, and it is extremely defamatory and damaging.”
Scruggs is no longer alive to defend her work. She died at the age of 43 in 2001, with many close to her believing the stress from the controversy of her reporting attributed to the poor health that caused her early death.
In addition to the disclaimer, The AJC is also requesting that Warner Brothers make a statement “publicly acknowledging that some events were imagined for dramatic purposes and artistic license and dramatization were used in the film’s portrayal of events and characters.”
Jewell, who died in 2007, filed and settled suits with numerous outlets following the accusations against him. Of all the organizations involved in legal battles over this, the AJC was the only one who did not settle. Their case was dismissed in 2011 with the court saying that at the time, what the outlet was printing was true. They defended their reporting, which many critics say the film attacks, in their letter.
“The AJC actually held that story for a day to develop additional independent corroboration of key facts prior to publication. Law enforcement sources confirmed to the AJC their focus on Mr. Jewell,” the letter said. “The accuracy of the story had also been confirmed with an FBI spokesperson to whom the entire story was read before publication.”
AJC Journalists Criticize Film
Richard Jewell hits theatres everywhere on Dec. 13. The film has received positive reviews and awards buzz so far, though some critics have pointed out the heavy-handed way the film depicts news media. The Washington Post said Eastwood’s latest project paints the press as “the enemy of the people” and “caricatures of corruption.”
Slate said it depicted Scruggs as “vampiric.” The AJC published a piece called “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs” citing people who knew Scruggs at the time, all who claimed this portrait of her was far from reality.
One colleague called the film version of Scruggs “complete horse (expletive)” and “just not true.” Her reporting partner at the time also critiqued it.
“It’s obvious to me they did not go to any great lengths to find out what the real characters were like,” he said.
“The film literally makes things up and adds to misunderstandings about how serious news organizations work,” he said. “It’s ironic that the film commits the same sins that it accuses the media of committing.”
Warner Brothers Defends Film
“It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast,” their statement said. “’Richard Jewell’ focuses on the real victim, seeks to tell his story, confirm his innocence and restore his name. The (Journal-Constitution’s) claims are baseless and we will vigorously defend against them.”
They also told Fox News that the film will have a disclaimer at the end of it, which is standard for most films based at least partially on true stories. This disclaimer will note that while the movie is based on historical events, elements have been added for the purposes of dramatization.
Wilde has previously defended the film and her character. She told the Hollywood Reporter that Scrugg’s legacy has been “unfairly boiled down to one element of her personality, one inferred moment in the film.”
“I think that people have a hard time accepting sexuality in female characters without allowing it to entirely define that character,” Wilde added. “We don’t do that to James Bond, We don’t say James Bond isn’t a real spy because he gets his information sometimes by sleeping with women as sources.”
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (New York Times) (IndieWire)
Ethan Klein Accused of Racism and Homophobia after Calling K-pop a “Little Twink, Gay Fetish”
- Ethan Klein of h3h3 Productions referred to BTS and other K-pop stars as part of a “little twink, gay fetish” in a recent podcast.
- Klein also made sexually obscene comments involving K-pop’s young female fans.
- Soon after, #h3h3IsOverParty trended on Twitter, with many calling his comments both homophobic and racist.
- Klein then doubled down on Twitter, telling K-pop fans to “lighten up” while also accusing them of being responsible for a recent wave of K-pop star suicides.
Klein Calls K-pop a “Twink, Gay Fetish”
After insulting K-pop by calling it a “little twink, gay fetish,” Ethan Klein is being accused of making both racist and homophobic comments.
In a podcast posted to their channel on Saturday, Klein and his wife Hila were breaking down YouTube’s 2019 Rewind. Klein’s comments came when the video showed mega-successful band BTS as having the second most-liked music video on the platform for 2019.
“I don’t get the BTS thing,” Klein said just before the podcast’s 26:00 minute mark. “I’m just going to say it right now, I don’t like K-pop. I hate K-pop. I don’t get BTS. How did this become a thing in Western culture, where all these grown men and little girls are jerking off to K-pop boys? It’s like a little fetish. It’s like a little twink, gay fetish about these K-pop boys.”
The next day, #h3h3IsOverParty started trending on Twitter, where many people criticized Klein’s comments. The backlash did not come as a surprise to Klein, who joked about being “assassinated” by K-pop fans in the podcast.
Twitter users also began uncovering and sharing other, older podcasts, where Klein used both racist and homophobic slurs back to back.
“I love that I can just say [n-word] [f-word], though,” Klein said in one podcast. “Like how could— I couldn’t really say that, [n-word] [f-word]. So wonderful.”
Klein Called Out for “Homophobic” and “Racist” Comments
With Klein’s most recent comments regarding K-pop, however, many denounced his speech as racist and homophobic. Other critics also condemned Klein’s mention of sexually obscene comments regarding K-pop’s young female fans.
“it doesn’t matter if you don’t like kpop, you’re entitled to ur opinions,” one user wrote. “it DOES matter when grown ass adults with a platform are sexualising an entire industry and calling it porn for underage girls and perverts? how do people not understand how gross that is ?? #h3h3isoverparty”
However, some people defended Klein, arguing that some K-pop fans promote the idea of fetishizing Asian men and that Klein was simply making an over-the-top joke.
Klein Doubles Down on Comments
Klein responded to the backlash on Sunday evening in a series of posts, where he joked about making the trending list and told K-pop fans to “lighten up” before making a further sexually obscene comment.
Klein, however, faced another controversy when he said K-pop fans “are responsible for dozens of suicides of K-pop idols because of their online abuse.”
Klein’s comment seemingly refers to a recent wave of suicides among popular Korean icons, such as Sulli, a K-pop star and actress who died in October, whose death was reportedly linked to cyberbullying. In November, another K-pop star, Goo Hara, also committed suicide after people online harassed her following the news that her boyfriend threatened to post an illegal sex tape of her.
Experts, however, have said that no single answer can explain the larger phenomenon of these deaths, with those experts also citing South Korea’s conservative society and the immense pressure K-pop stars face from fans and industry executives.
On Twitter, many then pushed back against Klein’s claim.
As the situation unfolded, Klein’s wife Hila responded by asking if she was also canceled, with Klein saying he was taking her down with him.
Later, Pewdiepie, possibly poking fun at the situation, tweeted his reaction.
“Fucking POS YOURE TRASH!” he said. “Speak bad of kpop and bts again and army will WALK ALL OVER YOU! @h3h3productions #h3h3isoverparty”
Bill Nye’s $28M Lawsuit Against Disney Headed to Trial
- Bill Nye will take Disney to trial under allegations that the company shortchanged him and his partners $28 million for his 1990s television series.
- The “Science Guy” claims that he is personally owed at least $9.4 million.
- Nye filed a complaint in 2017 and a Los Angeles judge just ruled that the case will go to trial.
- The trial will take place in May 2020 over a span of 10 days, according to the ruling.
Judge Gives Green Light
Bill Nye, popularly known as the “Science Guy,” has been granted permission to take his case against the Walt Disney Company to trial.
Nye alleges that Disney failed to pay him and his partners $28.1 million in revenue from his hit 1990s television show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” He claims he alone is owed at least $9.4 million.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled on Thursday that a 10-day trial will occur in May 2020 to address the allegations.
The television personality filed suit in 2017, questioning Disney’s Buena Vista Television, who handled the accounting.
According to the complaint, Buena Vista Television came to a written agreement with Nye and the other owners of the show in which they agreed to “promote, market, and distribute the show.” Nye and his partners said that under this deal they were entitled to 50% of the net profit, but were shortchanged.
Nye said he became suspicious of the accuracy of his paychecks after Disney claimed they made an “accounting error” in 2008. At that time, the company insisted that he repay them thousands of dollars that they had sent him a few months earlier.
“Bill Nye the Science Guy” ran on PBS for five seasons between 1993-1998 and was screened in classrooms nationwide for educational purposes.