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Spitz & Evans Lead Action Against Samsung

Apr 27, 2012  - Craig Lord

Olympic swimming champions Mark Spitz and Janet Evans, Aaron Peirsol, Brooke Bennett and Amanda Beard and diving great Greg Louganis are along 18 Olympic athletes who have sued Samsung Corp. over a Facebook application they allege misuses their names and images.

According to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this week, the athletes object to the Samsung Olympic Genome Project, which shows Facebook users how they are connected to famous Olympians.

Those suing include 13 aquatic athletes, the above joined by Kristy Kowal, Caroline and Clark Burckle, Kim Vandenberg,  Jessica Hardy, Dara Torres, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Eric Shanteau from swimming and Brad Schumacher, the water polo player. Also on the list of plaintiffs are the likes of track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and pro beach volleyball player Phil Dalhausser.

The complaint alleges Samsung, which has been running the Olympic Genome Project since March, did not seek permission from the athletes to use their names and images.

"Plaintiffs' names and images and background information are on the Facebook application, in an attempt to link plaintiffs to consumers," the lawsuit says. "Prominently displayed on the Facebook application is the Samsung's trademarked name as well as advertising for defendants' 'Galaxy' product. Samsung has used plaintiffs' names and images to create the impression that plaintiffs endorse Defendants' products and business."

The lawsuit seeks licensing fees, unspecified general and punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky told AP that the USOC and Samsung began the Olympic Genome Project so Americans could find connections with US athletes and not as a means of making money. "We have honoured the requests of the athletes who have filed suit to remove their names, as we offered to do months ago, and of course we will remove any athletes that do not wish to be listed," he said in a statement.

Richard Foster, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, noted that athletes had been sent a letter in which they were told they could opt out. However, he added, several of those who did return opt-out forms then found themselves includes against their wishes. Some athletes simply deleted the original email from Samsung without trellising that they had to actively opt out, rather than opt in by choice.

"The project clearly sought to induce sales of Samsung products and sought to build the athletic community around its brand," Foster said.