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Steve McQueen family sues Ferrari over using name on car

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

On July 31, the surviving family of iconic actor Steve McQueen filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles state court against luxury auto maker Ferrari for calling a limited-edition Ferrara "The McQueen" without permission. The car is brown, apparently in tribute to a brown Ferrari Lusso that McQueen had owned. The McQueen Ferrara was part of the automaker's 70th birthday tribute to famous Ferrari owners. 

Courthouse News Service cites the complaint as saying McQueen was the best paid actor around the globe in the mid-1970s and that he loved car racing, as reflected in his choices of roles in films on the subject.


As is common in suits of this type, the complaint alleges several different kinds of legal claims. According to LA West Media, the claims brought include: 

  • Right of publicity
  • Trademark infringement
  • False endorsement
  • False designation of origin
  • Unfair competition 

Reportedly, Chadwick McQueen visited the Ferrari manufacturing plant in 2011 and discussed with the company president a potential special-edition car named after his famous father, subject to the condition that the family would be involved and have rights of approval. In 2017, the family learned that the car was on the market without its permission, even using "Steve McQueen's persona" and picture in marketing, according to Courthouse News Service, citing the complaint. 

In reaction to the family, Ferrari renamed the car "The Actor," but reportedly still used McQueen's persona in promotion. 

Damages sought 

The complaint reportedly asks for $2 million for each trademark violation plus punitive damages, which are those designed to punish a defendant, rather than compensate for a particular loss. 

Followers of right of publicity law will watch this celebrity case with interest.

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