Model, actress and entrepreneur Carmen Electra, fitness expert Paige Hathaway, former Playboy Playmate and ex-Miami Dolphins cheerleader Jaime Edmondson Longoria, and model Ana Cheri, joined by several of Instagram's hottest stars, are among those involved in lawsuits against three Colorado strip clubs, including two in Denver, for alleged unauthorized use of their photos on social media in ways that their lawyer says damages their reputation and harms their image.
"They're not strippers," stresses Steven Greenlee, an attorney for Burg Simpson. "They're not dancers at these clubs. They have not agreed to have their name or likeness or pictures associated with these companies. So their own brands are diminished by the association. The implication is that these models are associated with these businesses, and they're businesses that they don't necessarily want to be associated with."
The Electra suit targets 4842 Morrison Rd. Corp, which does business as the Players Club, a venue at 6710 Federal Boulevard. Separate complaints by Hathaway and Longoria, the latter in concert with Cheri and models Abigail Ratchford, Emily Sears, Jaclyn Swedberg, Lucy Pinder and Rosie Roff, name the Million Dollar Corporation, owner of Dandy Dan's Gentleman's Club at 214 South Federal.
And Cheri, along with model Julianne Klaren, is also going after Déjà Vu — Colorado Springs, Inc., owner of Déjà Vu Showgirls, at 2145 B Street in the Springs. All four documents are accessible below.
Excerpts from the Electra suit serve as an example of the allegations involved in the cases.
"To promote the Players Club, and in furtherance of Defendants’ commercial benefit, Defendants repeatedly posted, and then maintained, on the Players Club Facebook and Instagram pages, an image of Plaintiff, Carmen Electra, altered to connect her to and associate her with the Players Club and its events and activities, creating a false impression that Plaintiff worked at or was affiliated with Players Club, would appear at Players Club events, or endorsed the Players Club and its events and activities," the former document states.
"Carmen Electra is not employed by Players Club, she does not strip or dance at Players Club, she does not affiliate herself in any way with Players Club or endorse its promotional activities and events, and she never has," the suit allows.
"What's happening here is that these clubs are going out and finding photographs — I assume they're finding them on the Internet — and copying them onto whatever computers they use to do their social media," Greenlee explains. "They take these photos of famous models like Carmen Electra and others — you can clearly see it's them — and put them on their own social-media website to then promote their own business, sometimes with hashtags, and sometimes with commentary regarding their own club."
He adds that "sometimes they alter the photographs to put their own branding on them, identifying events that they want people to come to. So you'll see a picture of Carmen Electra with the Players Club name."
Greenlee argues that "under federal law, this is a form of false advertising. It suggests a false endorsement by these models of club events and their business."
Based on examples Greenlee has found to date, "there's nothing explicit saying that Carmen Electra is going to be at the Players Club on this date," he acknowledges. "But there's confusion created when you have photographs of famous people on your website next to your name or next to an event in ways that may confuse consumers. They may think these models are going to show up and be there. They may think they're endorsing the event or the business itself."
He continues: "They're using these pictures without paying these models their fees, and without asking them. You've got these people using photographs they have no right to use — and they're using them in a way that confuses people."
The suits filed by Greenlee certainly aren't the first of their kind. Back in 2015, a similar complaint in Florida listed a slew of plaintiffs — among them models Tiffany Toth, Carrie Minter, Ursula Mayes, onetime Dancing With the Stars participant Joana Krupa and Tamara Witmer, whose credits include a Kid Rock video and the "Lingerie Bowl" halftime show for the 2005 Super Bowl. And last year, Electra and dozens of other models took on a Chicago strip club in a massive lawsuit that filled 389 pages.
"It's becoming commonplace," Greenlee confirms. "We're seeing these complaints are being filed across the country, and a lot of the defendants are strip clubs. These women are being used as models, so obviously they're attractive, and these clubs want to use attractive women to attract a clientele. So they're using their photographs in cities and states all over."
One reason for the proliferation of such actions is their growing success.
"We're even seeing summary judgments being granted by judges in favor of these models," Greenlee points out. "And the law is pretty straightforward in our mind. This is a situation where you've got people taking things that aren't theirs and using them to promote their business. That's not right under the law, so we're going to take a look at these things and see where we can go with them in terms of what's right for our clients under both state and federal law."
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According to Greenlee, there are plenty of potential beneficiaries from the suits beyond Electra, Hathaway, Longoria and Cheri, including the clubs themselves.
"This should be educational for them," he contends. "These are companies that are run by businesspeople, and they should know that when you're using media to promote your company, you need to pay for it. You can't just go out and take people's pictures, put them on your social-media pages and say, 'Come on down to my club.' That isn't how things are run in the business world, and it shouldn't be how they run their companies."
In addition, he says, "we're trying to protect consumers as well as our clients. That's one of the biggest things Burg Simpson does — protect consumers. So hopefully these lawsuits will be something clubs will look at and say, 'Hey, we shouldn't be doing this.' And then they will stop doing it."
Click to read Carmen Electra v. the Players Club, Paige Hathaway v. Dandy Dan's Gentlemen's Club, Jaime Longoria, et. al., via Dandy Dan's Gentlemen's Club and Ana Cheri, et. al., via Déjà Vu Showgirls.