Estate of James Dean sues Twitter and fan over @JamesDean account

Intellectual Property Law

Estate of James Dean sues Twitter and fan over @JamesDean account

Feb 11, 2014, 04:50 pm CST

Iconic actor James Dean, best-known for his leading role in Rebel Without a Cause, has been dead for decades. So there’s scant likelihood that those following the Twitter account @JamesDean think they’re dealing with the real silver screen legend.

However, the actor’s estate has sued the anonymous owner of the account and Twitter in Indiana state court, contending that the handle infringes on the trademark and the right of publicity owned by Dean’s estate, reports the Indianapolis Star. The complaint (PDF) also names four other John Doe defendants, alleging that they, like @JamesDean, are using copyrighted images of Dean on their Twitter accounts.

Little is known about the owner of the @JamesDean Twitter handle, but he told the newspaper that he is simply a fan of the actor and does not profit from the page. In an email attached to the suit, Twitter told celebrity licensing agency CMG Worldwide, which represents James Dean Inc., that the account doesn’t violate the social media site’s trademark policy.

In addition to damages, the suit seeks ownership of the @JamesDean account. Initially filed in Hamilton Superior Court on Dec. 31, 2013, the suit is now in the process of being removed to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Law professor Gerard N. Magliocca of Indiana University said the federal Anti-Cybersquatting Piracy Act prohibits the unauthorized use of celebrity names on website domains but not Twitter handles. He also questions whether a common-law right of publicity applies to the use of a celebrity’s name for noncommercial purposes, if that is indeed how @JamesDean is being used.

“Here’s the problem,” he told the newspaper. “We really don’t know who owns it or what their motivation is.”

Dean died in an automobile accident in 1955, when he was 24 years old. He would now be 83 if he had lived.

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