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Justices Allow Vanna White to Sue Over Ad with Robot Look-Alike

June 1, 1993 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today let TV game-show hostess Vanna White sue a VCR manufacturer over an ad that showed a glamorously dressed robot ready to turn a letter as she does on ″Wheel of Fortune.″

The court, without comment, rejected the electronics company’s argument that it has a First Amendment right to use a parody of White in its advertisements.

Samsung Electronics America had an advertising campaign in the late 1980s that showed its products still being used in the 21st Century.

In one magazine ad, a robot wearing a blond wig, gown and jewels posed next to a board of large letters on what appeared to be a game-show set like that used for ″Wheel of Fortune.″

White sued Samsung and David Deutsch Associates, which prepared the ad, in 1988. Both companies are based in New York.

White said Samsung and Deutsch used her likeness without her permission, violated her right to publicity under California law and created confusion over whether she was endorsing their product.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the robot could not be mistaken for any person, including White.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the right to the publicity claim and the federal claim regarding a possible endorsement.

The appeals court rejected Samsung’s argument that because its ad was a parody of White it deserved stronger protection than other forms of commercial speech.

″Unless the First Amendment bars all right of publicity actions - and it does not - ... then it does not bar this case,″ the 9th Circuit court said.

In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for Samsung and Deutsch said the appeals court’s ruling ″strips the Vanna White parody of First Amendment protection merely because it appears in a commercial advertisement.″

Such a standard would chill commercial and non-commercial speech, the companies’ lawyers said.

White’s lawyers said in reply, ″The real issue before this court is whether (Samsung and Deutsch) have an absolute right ... to misappropriate Ms. White’s right of publicity for their own profit in a commercial advertisement without compensating her or obtaining her permission.″

The case is Samsung Electronics America vs. White, 92-1629.