Ariana Grande’s $10M ‘Problem’ With Forever 21 Sends Powerful Message

Published on September 4, 2019

Guess what happens when you try and use the image and likeness of the most-followed woman on Instagram in the world? You better be prepared to pay a hefty legal fee—in this case $10 million. On Monday, international singer, songwriter, and actress, Ariana Grande-Butera (“Ariana Grande”) by and through her counsel, filed suit against Forever 21, demanding $10 million for the misappropriation of her name, image, and likeness, in addition to other intellectual property infringement claims.

Was Forever 21 Looking for an Escape?

Founded in 1984, Forever 21 has become a staple in nearly every shopping mall around the world by capitalizing on its then-revolutionary techniques of rapidly producing inexpensive clothing, making it one of the most well-known “fast fashion” brands in the world, according to court documents. See Complaint.

Indeed, Forever 21’s annual revenue totaled approximately $3.4 billion in 2017; however, the company has recently faced competition from new online fast fashion companies which do not have practical limitations and financial burdens that come with brick-and-mortar stores. Hello digital age and social media. See Complaint.

The multi-million-dollar suit comes in the wake of Bloomberg’s report last week that Forever 21 was close to filing for bankruptcy protection. In the suit, Grande alleges that the fast-fashion company used her ‘likeness’ without her permission as part of an advertising campaign.

According to court documents obtained by Grit Daily, Grande by and through her counsel, have claimed violations of:

  • California Civil Code $3344;
  • Common Law Right of Publicity;
  • False Endorsement Under the Lanham Act $1125(A);
  • Trademark Infringement (15 USC $1114(A)(A));
  • Common Law Trademark Infringement; and
  • Copyright Infringement (17 USC $501)

What’s the Legal?

Following the record-breaking release of Grande’s single, “Thank U, Next” on or around November 3, 2018, and in anticipation of the album’s release in February 2019, Forever 21 contacted Grande’s representatives to discuss the possibility of having her endorse the brand, given that the majority of Grande’s fans fit squarely within Forever 21’s target market.

Per the Complaint, the endorsement deal Forever 21 sought with Grande centered around social media marketing, including, but not limited to, Twitter posts, Instagram posts, and Instagram stories. As of today, Grande’s stature and market influence drive even a single Instagram post by the artist into six-figures, commanding even into the mid-seven figures to over eight-figures for longer-term endorsement deals, marketing campaigns, and/or licensing deals for use of her name and likeness.

Negotiations between the fashion company and Grande’s representatives took place sometime between December 2018 and January 2019, but the proposed endorsement deal, according to court documents, never took place because the amounts Forever 21 offered to pay were deemed “insufficient for an artist of her stature.” This was allegedly communicated to Forever 21.

According to court documents, Grande discovered the infringement on or around February 23, 2019, immediately notifying her attorneys and agents, including representatives of Bravado International Group Merchandising Services, Inc., her exclusive licensee for certain of her intellectual property in the apparel industry.

The Alleged Violations

#1—Misappropriating Grande’s Image

Case 2:19-cv-07600 | Page 8, Complaint

The Complaint comes because of claims that Forever 21 disregarded said terms and capitalized on a campaign following Grande’s success with her album, Thank U, Next, by publishing at least thirty (30) unauthorized images and videos misappropriating Grande’s name, image, likeness, and music in order to create the false perception of her endorsement.

The lawsuit included screenshots of images posted to Forever 21’s social media accounts as evidence, as well as several photos of the look-alike model sporting Grande’s signature ponytail hairstyle and clothing and accessories similar to her “7 Rings” music video. Grit Daily has seen these images and can attest to their existence in the Complaint as originally posted by Forever 21’s social media handles on Twitter and Instagram.

According to USA Today and our sources, the posts have since been deleted from the company’s social media accounts.

#2—Hiring a “Look-A-Like” Model

Case 2:19-cv-07600 | Page 10 of 21, Complaint

The lawsuit further alleges that as part of the “unauthorized marketing campaign,” Forever 21 also falsely suggested Grande’s endorsement by hiring a look-a-like model and posting photos of that model in clothing and accessories that resemble clothing worn in Grande’s music videos and that the public immediately associates with Grande.

According to Grande’s legal representatives, the model was one who looked (1) strikingly similar to Grande, (2) wore a similar hairstyle to the one Grande wore in 7 Rings video, (3) dressed in a top designed to look like a top worn by Grande in numerous well-known photographs (including photographs that Forever 21 wrongfully posted of Grande to its Instagram feed), (4) wore a distinctive hair accessory worn by Grande in the 7 Rings video and numerous well-known photographs, (5) used a pose that was virtually identical to the pose in which Grande was photographed, (6) in certain instances, with 7 Rings audio played over the post, (7) in certain instances, with the distinctive “7” from the 7 Rings video displayed in the background, (8) in certain instances intermixed with photographs of Grande herself (which photographs Forever 21 had no authorization to post, according to court documents), and (9) in certain instances, coupled with captions containing lyrics from Grande’s song 7 Rings.

#3—Failure to Immediately Remove Posts

Upon immediate request by Grande’s representatives to remove all of the unauthorized content, the company did not do so, again receiving requests on or around March 15, 2019 and April 3, 2019. The posts allegedly remained on Forever 21’s and Riley Rose’s social media accounts until at least April 17, 2019.

#4—Commercial Gain

According to court documents, Forever 21 was able to improperly use and profit from Grande’s influence and “star-power” for approximately fourteen weeks.

Grit Daily has examined all of the court documents made available through PACER’s electronic filing system for confirmation.

For more information, you can track this case through the PACER system:

Case 2:19-cv-07600, Grande-Butera Et Al v. Forever 21, Inc., Et Al

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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