Model may cause dental professionals to frown

Sept. 11, 2006
Dental professionals might be held liable for use of model's image and likeness for promotional purposes.

LOS ANGELES--Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP has filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging that 3M Unitek, Robert A. Sunstein, DDS and potentially other as yet unnamed dental professionals have been using model Leslie A. Pruitt's image and likeness for promotional purposes without her consent since 2000. 

Sunstein, who operates under the business name "The Sunny Smile Specialist," is one of the dental professionals facing liability as a result of 3M Unitek's encouragement to use Pruitt's image for promoting its clear adult braces product.

According to Rod Berman, Pruitt's lead attorney and the Chairperson of JMBM's Intellectual Property Group, California law prohibits the use of a person's image to facilitate purchases of a company's goods without the person's prior consent.

In 1996, corporate giant 3M Unitek selected Pruitt, a former model and actress, to use in promotions for its clear adult braces product. Pruitt authorized a photo of her face to be used only on printed, point-of-sale materials to contrast the look of 3M's new clear adult braces to old metal braces. 

Her contract with the corporation was renewed annually until 2000 when she was subsequently informed that 3M was no longer interested in using her image and would cease to pay her royalties.

Pruitt learned in February that 3M Unitek had continued to use her image to market its clear adult braces without authorization, while also expanding the use of her image to its catalog and website. Pruitt contends 3M Unitek also encouraged dentists and orthodontists, such as Sunstein, to use her image on their dental business websites to promote its respective products and services. 

As a result, it is believed that 3M, Sunstein, and numerous other dental professionals have collected millions in revenue by intentionally using Pruitt's image in reckless disregard of her rights.

JMBM asserts in its complaint on Pruitt's behalf that the defendants have taken advantage of, and unjustly profited from, the use of Pruitt's image and are thus seeking general, exemplary and punitive damages. This will include, but is not limited to, all profits made by each defendant in conjunction with the use of her image, as dictated by California Civil Code Sec. 3344. 

The suit also seeks to reestablish Pruitt's control over her image by forcing 3M, Sunstein, and other dental professionals to stop using it.