Playboy Models Find Big Bucks In Strip Club Image Rights Lawsuits

Strip clubs all over the country have been engaging in the habit of taking pictures of professional models, Playboy Playmates, reality TV stars and others, and using them to advertise their own, local establishments. Now, those clubs are paying a price, according to a report by the legal site Law360, as many of those women are firing back with lawsuits over the unauthorized use of their images.

“In a wave of litigation that has been growing since as early as 2015, models like former Baywatch star Carmen Electra and Real Housewives of Miami alum Joanna Krupa are suing clubs over photos used in the businesses’ posts on social media,” Law360 wrote (link behind paywall). “They’re filing the suits in droves, with some models bringing more than 50 lawsuits against clubs over the last three years.”

In November, a group of 14 models filed a suit against a club in Columbus, Ohio, according to the Cincinatti Enquirer, and that was the 13th such suit brought last year in Ohio alone.

Similar suits were also ongoing in Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Colorado, according to the Enquirer investigation. 

“Because they target small and often controversial businesses with claims that are expensive to defend against, there is significant pressure on the clubs to settle,” Law360 reported. And indeed, according to the report, that is exactly what many clubs do, resulting in significant payouts to the models whose images were used without permission.

While “right of publicity” laws vary somewhat from state to state, in general, the laws allow individuals to control the use if their own likeness for commercial purposes, according to the International Trademark Association. Using a person’s photo or clear likeness in promotional or advertising materials for a business is widely prohibited without that person's permission.

Electra (pictured above), the former Baywatch cast member who has also appeared in Playboy,  appears to be a frequently used figure in unauthorized advertising, and as a result, she has been perhaps the most prolific plaintiff in the lawsuits against local strip clubs over use of her photo, filing 29 such suits, 21 last year alone.

And according to legal experts, the clubs don’t have much of a case, making settlement their best and most economical option.

“There’s very legitimate claims here,” trademark lawyer Josh Gerben told Law360. “There’s probably not a lot to dispute.”

On the other hand, Gerben noted, if a case went to court, the model would need to show in most states that the unauthorized use harmed her in some way, or was intended to deceive consumers into believing that she endorsed the club that used her image.

“If the use isn’t overly egregious, the damages are going to be relatively small,” Gerben said. “You’re not talking million-dollar cases here.”

Photo By Manfred Werner / Wikimedia Commons