A quick update on the endorsement contract wars. We previously blogged about a judge’s refusal to dismiss a breach of contract case involving a professional football players loss of an endorsement contract after making some controversial tweets about the death of Osama bin Laden. The judge in that case held that the Company needed to make a factual showing that the public had actually been offended or shocked by the endorser’s conduct. Now a California court has weighed in on the issue in a case involving Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher a/k/a Ben Stein. The actor/lawyer/economist/public commentator had argued that the printer company Kyocera breached its endorsement agreement with him after learning of his views that global warming is not a man-made phenomenon. The court found that Kyocera had a first amendment right to not associate itself with Stein and his alleged views on global warming.
The court did not address the recent North Carolina case but the Stein case serves to illustrate how difficult the standard proposed by that court — objectively measuring the effect of the endorser’s statements on the public — would likely be to administer. Public opinion polls show that the American public is pretty closely divided over whether global warming is a natural or man-made phenomena so it may be difficult to know which way Stein’s alleged views cut. However, perhaps people on one side of the debate versus the other are more likely to “punish” a company for its views (or the views of its spokespersons) or perhaps the views of people who buy printers skew in one direction or the other. And the list of issues and possible questions goes on from there.
The judge permitted one claim to go forward – the allegation that Kyocera replaced Ben Stein with a look-alike infringing his right to publicity. (and, if true, no doubt undercutting Kyocera’s argument that it was worried about the public’s reaction to Ben Stein’s views (or those of his alleged look-alike) to global warming.