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Paul Zimmerman

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Julia Child Foundation Sues Airbnb for Using Her Name Without Permission

The charitable foundation representing the estate of famed chef, culinary author and TV personality Julia Child, has sued Airbnb because the company used Child’s name and likeness for a Memorial Day promotion without the foundation’s permission. The foundation owns all rights of publicity of and associated with Julia Child, and maintains a strict policy of prohibiting the use of her name or likeness to market or sell commercial products (as was Ms. Child’s preference during her lifetime).

The lawsuit focuses on an Airbnb promotion to give away a free night for two Airbnb guests at Child’s occasional vacation home in Provence, France. Airbnb did not mention Child by name in the online description of the property, but suggested that guests can “almost hear her summoning you into the kitchen, where everything is as she left it.” The description of the prize also included famous quotes about cooking from Child.

Additionally, an email blast sent out by Airbnb’s marketing firm about the promotion is more direct, saying: “Airbnb is giving away a free night at the former home of Julia Child in Provence, France.” The email goes on to say that guests could comb through “the knickknacks in her kitchen exactly as she left them.” According to the complaint filed in California state superior court, the home-sharing site was explicitly told by the foundation not to mention Julia Child in its marketing materials.  The suit asks for damages, any profits made from the promotion, as well as legal fees.

This case serves as an important reminder that when conducting a promotion it is important to not only review the structure of the promotion and the official rules, but also to make sure the rights of third parties are not violated. 

This blog post is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.