The hugely popular and critically acclaimed TV series ‘Mad Men‘ has faced a setback after its production company Lionsgate has been sued by Gita Hall May, a top 1950’s model. The lawsuit has been filed by Ms. May in the Superior Court of the State of California for the county of Los Angeles.
The main title sequence of the Mad Men series depicts the shadow of a businessman falling through Madison Avenue. The background uses advertisements, office buildings and other designs to set the series in the 1950- 1960’s. One of the advertisements contain an image of a red haired woman, who, through her looks and by herself is clearly identifiable with this time frame. This red haired woman was Gita Hall May and that particular image was a photograph taken by noted fashion photographer Richard Avedon, to be used in a hairspray advertisement for Revlon.
Ms. May has submitted before the Los Angeles Court in her complaint that she consented to the use of her likeness and the Avedon photograph only for the Revlon campaign then. To quote directly from the complaint, ” At no time did she agree to allow, forty years later, her image to be cropped from the photo, in secret, and inserted as a key element in the title sequence of a cable television series, without her consent and for commercial purposes .”
Ms. May’s complaint is simple. She contends that she has a right to her likeness and that Lionsgate should not be allowed to exploit it without her consent, in an unauthorised manner while paying her no compensation whatsoever. It is extremely interesting to note that even this main title sequence of the Mad Men series has been acclaimed independently of the series as can be evidenced from the series’s 2008 Emmy Award win for Outstanding Main Title Design. The complaint asserts that Ms. May’s image in the main title sequence was integral to the success of the series and that Lionsgate has generated over one billion dollars through the exploitation of the series and its episodes. The complaint states that Ms. May’s image in the main title sequence not only added commercial and economic value to the series but was also partly responsible for the value, success, goodwill, profits and reputation of Lionsgate and the other unidentified Defendants.
Therefore, Ms. May has approached the Los Angeles Court seeking remedy for the unauthorised use of her image and likeness by Lionsgate. The complaint lists eight causes of action which include the misappropriation of right of publicity for commercial purposes, invasion of common law rights of privacy; and violation of the unfair competition law, false advertising law, quasi contract and the principle of unjust enrichment among others. The complaint asks for several remedies including general, special, consequential, statutory and punitive damages; restitution; injunctive relief. ( The complete list can be found on pg: 13 of the complaint)
The decision of the Los Angeles Court on this matter is not yet out. In the meantime, readers can refer to this blog post for the image of Gita Hall May in the Revlon hairspray ad.