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Deconstructing Woody

Tonight (Thursday), CRUMBS Night Out at the Linda Norris Auditorium is very special indeedy. First up at 7 PM is major buzz-band/collective/traveling circus Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, who may or may not play selections from their new EP Charles Mingus’ Garbage Pile. Given their recent shout-out on NPR, an appearance at SXSW, and an upcoming residency at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, you really don’t want to miss this. Then, you don’t want to miss the 8 PM music-biz panel discussion about what’s up these days with indie labels, featuring the heads of two of the world’s great and most-respected indie labels: Steve Reddy of Albany’s alt-rock powerhouse Equal Vision Records and Lincoln Mayorga of Chatham’s audiophile classical/jazz label Town Hall Records.

There’s a special place in hell for attorneys like Stuart Slotnick. Slotnick represents American Apparel, you know, the company that makes “edgy” T-shirts, posts smarmy ads all over the Web and everywhere else, and tries to be the fashion voice of the 20-something consumer generation. (Recent post on the company’s site: “Kim Karadashian: Ghetto Fabulous in American Apparel!”). Gawd.

American Apparel used an image of Woody Allen in a recent ad campaign, what looks like a screen capture of Woody decked out like an Orthodox Jew from a scene in Annie Hall. This is flat-out, hands-down, ridiculously illegal. Every state in the union (and most every country in the world) has laws, either common or statutory, against using somebody’s image in an advertisement without their permission. You probably already know this, but apparently the morons at American Apparel didn’t, or were so gleeful in their commercial “edginess” that they decided they were just way too hip for the law. Or something.

Note that this doesn’t only apply to celebrities. Everyone’s image—yours, mine, Woody Allen’s—is protected. It’s really a matter of privacy for most of us, of being left alone. For celebrities, though, it’s something more. The use of an images is more than an intrusion, it’s a taking, a hijacking, of the celebrity’s endorsement and persona, the celebrity’s “right of publicity.”

So, naturally, Woody Allen sued American Apparel for this gross and blatant offense. Not surprisingly, the notoriously private Allen doesn’t endorse products in the United States. In fact, Allen has previously stopped the use of Woody Allen look-alikes in clothing ads appearing in magazines.

Enter Stuart Slotnick, Esq., who blabs to the press that, essentially, American Apparel is going to put Woody Allen on trial. Slotnick’s “theory” is that Allen’s personal life, in particular his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn (which I’m sure you all also know about), has resulted in Allen’s commercial endorsement value being nil. Therefore, the “theory” goes that Allen’s “damages,” which Slotnick apparently measures as the market value of what American Apparel would have paid Allen for the use of his image, is nonexistent as well.

Now, we can all argue about the morality and propriety of Woody Allen’s personal life ‘til we’re blue in the face, but I would offer the following: Allen and Previn have been married now for 12 years and have two adopted kids. OK?

There’s a couple of issues here. One, American Apparel broke the law in the most crass way possible, and the victim is now getting pummeled? If Allen’s image is really so worthless, why did American Apparel use it in the first place? And if the measure of damages is the market value of the image, what good is the law? Are the folks at American Apparel seriously arguing that they can steal someone’s image, and if they get caught, simply pay the “market value” of that use? Really? What protection does that afford someone like, say, Woody Allen, who chooses not to have his image used for any commercial endorsement, period? What protection would that afford you and me? What’s the value of the use of our image in a commercial, particularly if we don’t want our image used? Would Slotnick counter our lawsuits with smear campaigns about our pasts, too? Really?

Slotnick noted, in his extracurricular conversations with the press, that American Apparel had pulled the ads and apologized. That’s mighty big of them. But that can’t be enough, either.

Lawyers are duty-bound to “zealously” advocate on behalf of their clients. But there are boundaries of decency, boundaries of the law, and boundaries of common sense that lawyers should not transgress. Here’s hoping that a judge intervenes and stops Slotnick’s charade. It’s disgusting. And here’s hoping you remember this idiotic behavior next time you go out to buy clothing.

—Paul Rapp

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