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A Plastic Toy Hamster by Any Other Name…

On Behalf of | Sep 29, 2015 | Legal Blog

If a major toy manufacturer named a plastic toy hamster after you, would you be upset? Flattered? Angry enough to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking a permanent injunction and monetary damages of more than $5 million?

Well, if you’re FOX News personality Harris Faulkner, you choose the latter.

In a very bizarre set of facts, Hasbro has released a line of plastic toy animals with real sounding names, like “Harris Faulkner” and, apparently, the behemoth toy company never bothered to (a) complete their due diligence in determining if there was anything famous who might have the same name and object to it being used as the name of a toy hamster, or (b) license the name from Ms. Faulkner. Of course, had they chose Plan B, it appears, at least from a reading of the complaint she filed in New Jersey District Court, that it was highly unlikely she would have agreed to license the use of her name. She considers her name and her likeness extremely valuable and is seeking to protect them both from devaluation by use on the Hasbro hamster. Oh, did I mention she also seems to believe the toy hamster’s “likeness” also infringes on her own?

In Ms. Faulkner’s complaint, she alleges “Hasbro’s manufacture, sale and distribution of the Harris Faulkner Hamster Doll is extremely concerning and distressing to Faulkner. In addition to its prominent and unauthorized uses of Faulkner’s traditional professional appearance, in particular the tone of its complexion, the shape of its eyes, and the design of its eye makeup. Hasbro’s capitalization on Faulkner’s name, likeness, identity, and persona is underscored with the display of the TM symbol after her name and a statement on the back of the packaging that this symbol denotes a U.S. Trademark and – falsely – claims that Hasbro owns a United States trademark in ‘HARRIS FAULKNER.'”

Ms. Faulkner goes on to claim that she “does not endorse products of any kind, as doing so would be a breach of journalistic ethics, would directly harm her professional credibility, and would be in violation of her contractual obligations to her employer.” And, of course, “This means that Hasbro misappropriated Faulkner’s name, likeness, identity, or persona without consent, for its own profit, for the purpose of capitalizing off her good name and persona, all at Faulkner’s expense.”

While it seems unlikely that the real Harris Faulkner actually suffered an injury to her “good name and persona” equivalent to $5 million in value, it certainly is odd that a company like Hasbro would choose to name a toy hamster using a real person’s name and not know that real person was relatively well-known, at least among FOX News fans. It might be easier to understand the legal hullabaloo if the hamster had been named Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw or even Diane Sawyer (personally, I’ve never heard of Harris Faulkner), but the right to protect your good name, at least theoretically, extends to everyone.

Why It Matters. It seems doubtful that any toy company would inadvertently (or even purposefully) use your name or mine on a toy and it seems even less likely that most of us could claim that such usage would entitle us to millions of dollars in compensatory damages. Nevertheless, if you are a “persona,” especially a television persona, then there is always some value to your publicity and as a person you have the right to protect the persona, even if it means suing a toy company for using your name on a plastic hamster.