TikTok sued by former 'Real Housewife' over unauthorized ads

Television personality Bethenny Frankel presents the outstanding culinary program award during the 40th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
  • Frankel said TikTok let users falsely advertise fake goods
  • Lawsuit to represent those allegedly ripped off in fake ads

(Reuters) - Entrepreneur and former "Real Housewives of New York City" reality star Bethenny Frankel sued TikTok Inc in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, accusing the popular short-form video platform of letting users misuse her and others' likenesses to endorse products without permission.

The class-action lawsuit said TikTok enabled users to create "numerous" videos with her name, image, voice, and other features of her persona to peddle counterfeit goods, violating her publicity rights.

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

A Thursday press release said Frankel discovered last month that a TikTok video she created was "stolen and re-posted" by a company selling counterfeits, and that many of her followers expressed dismay that she was "hawking fake products" after seeing it.

"I’ve discovered that this is a widespread issue affecting creators of all sizes across the space," Frankel said in the release. "It’s unacceptable, and I want to be a voice for change and use my platform to create a shift in the industry."

Frankel said in a TikTok video linked in the lawsuit that a company selling fake cardigans misused her content.

The proposed class action was filed on behalf of "all residents of the United States whose personas, voices, content, or likenesses are unlawfully used on TikTok to sell counterfeit goods."

"Countless creators post on TikTok, looking for ways to get more views," according to the lawsuit. "Hijacking the likenesses, images, and voices of well-known influencers, like Plaintiff, has become commonplace."

The lawsuit said TikTok is incentivized to allow the bad behavior to generate revenue from advertising and in-app purchases, and accused the company of failing to implement reasonable measures to protect influencers from unauthorized endorsements.

Frankel requested an unspecified amount of money damages and an order for TikTok to stop the misuse of the class's likenesses.

The case is Frankel v. TikTok Inc, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:22-cv-08503.

For Frankel: John Morgan and John Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan

For TikTok: not available

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com