‘Bon Appetit’: Julia Child’s Intellectual Property Legacy
Last month, Julia Child, the celebrity chef who introduced boeuf bourguignon to many American kitchens, would have celebrated her hundredth birthday. The deceased celebrity’s iconic cuisine, mannerisms, and image continue to spawn numerous pop culture references including Saturday Night Live sketches, blogs, the film Julie & Julia based on a blog, and even a blog about watching the film based on a blog.
One of the endeavors of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts is the protection of the celebrity chef’s right of publicity against unlicensed use. Earlier this summer, BSH Home Appliances Corp., the manufacturer of Thermador ovens, released advertisements featuring the deceased celebrity chef’s name and image for commercial purposes, without obtaining permission from the Julia Child Foundation.
The Julia Child Foundation filed a complaint in a California district court for damages and injunctive relief based on trademark and trade dress infringement, as well as copyright infringement. The complaint alleges that there is strong commercial value associated with Julia Child’s name and image in the food and cooking industries. Additionally, the complaint cites to Julia Child’s practice of refusing commercial endorsements during her career as a celebrity chef and author. By continuing to limit exposure of Julia Child’s name and image, the Julia Child Foundation claims to be adhering to the practice generated by the original owner of these intellectual property rights regarding commercial use of her name and image.
Four days before the Julia Child Foundation filed their complaint in California, however, BSH filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the district court of Massachusetts in response to a cease and desist letter received from the Julia Child Foundation. BSH argues that Julia Child’s use of Thermador appliances in both her personal kitchen and on her public television show is a known fact supported by the recent Smithsonian exhibit and, therefore, using a picture of her with a Thermador oven is not copyright, trademark, or trade dress infringement.
The current litigation developing over the use of Julia Child’s postmortem name and image addresses two important issues of intellectual property law. One concern is the use of protected intellectual property rights in a factual context for commercial activity. Should the Julia Child Foundation be able to restrict BSH from using the celebrity chef’s name and image to support a fact? Should BSH be able to use a celebrity’s protected name and image for commercial purposes?
This litigation also addresses a developing question in intellectual property law—how is a person’s postmortem right of publicity protected? The Massachusetts legislature is currently discussing Bill S.1713, which would allow the right of publicity to be considered a property right that is transferable to a celebrity’s heirs upon death.
As litigation continues, these two issues will receive particular attention regarding potential limits and expansions on the right of publicity.