Lack of proper photo permission: $15.6 million

In 1986 California model Russell Christoff was paid a modest sum for doing a photo shoot with a photographer working for Nestlé but assumed nothing had come of it. Years later, Christoff happened to glance at a jar of the company’s Taster’s Choice instant coffee and realized that the tiny “satisfied coffee drinker” face on its label was his, it having appeared there for years. And now a jury in Glendale, outside Los Angeles, has ordered the Swiss-based food company to pay Christoff $15.6 million for using his picture without adequate permission. “The jurors determined that Glendale-based Nestle should have paid Christoff $330,000 for the use of his likeness. They also voted to hand Christoff damages equal to 5% of the profit from Taster’s Choice sales during the six-year period, or $15.3 million,” invoking a California law intended to protect celebrities’ image. A company lawyer says the employee who pulled the photo for use thought the requisite permissions had been obtained on it. So now if you notice Legal being really, really prickly about signing off on any proposed use of photos picturing people, you’ll know why. (Meg James, “Verdict Creates Instant Millionaire”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 1; James Bone, “The tiny face on this jar of coffee has just cost Nestlé 15m”, The Times (UK), Feb. 2).

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