An Illinois federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages and brought by customers shown on the Travel Channel’s show Extreme Fast Food. Plaintiffs claimed that the Travel Channel violated their publicity rights by failing to obtain their consent to be shown while they were at the Wiener’s Circle, a popular Chicago hot dog restaurant that is “famous not just for its hot dogs but also for the abrasive nature of the staff.” Patrons, as part of their dining experience, are subjected to insulting comments.
Jennifer Zglobicki, on behalf of herself and other customers, filed the suit last August asserting a claim under Illinois’ Right of Publicity Act. She claimed that, just because she chose to eat at the restaurant at the time a reality TV show was present, she should not have to accept being filmed and later having a show broadcast with her an other bystanders to millions of people worldwide; she said there no notices of filming under way.
Although Illinois law gives individuals the right to control the use of their identity for commercial purposes, this protection does not extend to noncommercial purposes such as news or public affairs related broadcasts, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle ruled. He agreed with the Travel Channel that the use of the plaintiff’s likeness was a noncommercial use because a television show featuring a popular restaurant is a “subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.”
As a result, the plaintiffs’ claims were precluded by the First Amendment rights of the Travel Channel. Norgle offered advice in his opinion, cautioning others who may end up in a similar situation with reality TV filming: “The risk of this exposure is an essential incident of life in a society which places a primary value of freedom of speech and of press.”