James Dean’s estate has sued Twitter and the anonymous holder of the Twitter account @JamesDean, seeking to have the social network turn the handle over. The legal saga began in 2009 when a fan of the late actor set up the account @JamesDean with the goal of sharing a love for the Hollywood icon with others.
But now he and Twitter are the targets of the lawsuit filed by James Dean Inc., which represents Dean heirs who believe his name and likeness are a valuable commodity. The Indianapolis Star reports that the heirs allege that the fan is using Dean’s name and image without authorized consent.
The lawsuit was initially filed in Hamilton Superior Court, but attorneys for the social network want it moved to the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana because of the potential amount of damages at stake, as well as federal issues like trademark infringement.
James Dean’s image is protected by Fishers-based celebrity licensing agency CMG Worldwide. Mark Roesler, CMG’s chairman and CEO, explained of the lawsuit, “GMC’s Clients have valuable intellectual property vested in their name, image and likeness. For these reasons, CMG is trying to recover the James Dean Twitter account which directly bears our client’s name, which the public would look to for authorized and verified statements and representations by the people who most care about our client, namely, our client’s family.”
The unnamed man who owns the @JamesDean account is named as a “John Doe” on the lawsuit. He stated of the legal fight, “I have never tried in any way to profit from it. I started the account because I am a longtime James Dean fan and have a connection with him.”
The lawsuit includes emails between CMG and Twitter officials, one of which explains to CMG that officials “researched the account and determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s Trademark Policy. The account is not being used in a way that is misleading or confusing with regard to its brand, location or business affiliation.”
Indiana University law professor Gerard Magliocca explained that it really comes down to the goal of the person who holds the @JamesDean account. If the person isn’t using it for commercial purposes, then the common law “right of publicity” cited by James Dean Inc. may not apply. However, he added, “Here’s the problem. We really don’t know who owns it or what their motivation is.”