BSH Home Appliances Corp., which makes Thermador ovens, preemptively sued the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts on Friday, claiming its promotional use of photos of Child using its ovens does not infringe on the foundation’s rights to her likeness and trademarks.
BSH is seeking a judgment declaring that its use of or reference to Child’s name, image, likeness, celebrity identity and related trademarks in connection with presentations of the company’s heritage and history in various media does not infringe any trademark rights, copyrights, or rights of publicity claimed by the foundation, according to its complaint filed in Massachusetts federal court.
The action arises out of the foundation’s allegations that BSH has infringed one or more of the foundation’s trademarks and copyrights, and the foundation’s ownership of publicity rights related to the late Julia Child, according to the complaint.
“Ms. Child’s preference for and use of Thermador products, both on the set of her popular television show “The French Chef” and in her personal kitchen, is well-known and widely documented,” the complaint says.
Child’s personal kitchen was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., upon her passing, and remains on display to this day much as it appeared in her Massachusetts home, including her Thermador oven, the complaint points out.
BSH has used images of Child and references to the well-known historical fact of her use of Thermador products in various media, including on its website and on its social media web pages, the company says.
“These uses do not state or imply any endorsement by Ms. Child of Thermador products,” the complaint says. “Rather, plaintiff’s use of these photos and references to Julia Child’s name and use of Thermador products reflect on the long history, significance and influence of Thermador products on American society and culture, and Ms. Child’s documented and well-known use of those products.”
BSH claims its uses of Child’s image and name are not directly connected to the sale of any merchandise, but rather are factual references to her well-known use of Thermador products, placed in proper context, including on a timeline chronicling the company’s history and in the historical “Our Heritage” section of the Thermador website.
The foundation allegedly sent BSH a letter in July claiming exclusive ownership and control of Child’s image and trademarks, and demanded the appliance maker cease and desist from using references to Child.
Representatives for the Julia Child Foundation did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The passage of Child’s 100th birthday earlier this month served as an occasion for many tributes to her life and work.