Image: Brazilian soccer legend Pele looks on during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, in this file photo taken February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Landau/Files
By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – Brazilian football legend Pelé has sued Samsung Electronics Co for at least $30 million, claiming that the Korean company improperly used a look-alike in an advertisement that ran in the New York Times without permission.
According to the complaint filed this month in federal court in Chicago, Samsung placed the October ad for ultra high-definition televisions after breaking off negotiations in 2013 to use Pelé’s identity to promote its products.
Pelé, 75, is widely regarded as the greatest football player ever, and among the world’s most famous athletes in any sport.
Though the ad does not mention Pelé, it includes a portrait’sized image of a man who “very closely resembles” him, and a small photo of a football player making a “modified bicycle or scissors-kick, perfected and famously used by Pelé,” the complaint said.
Pelé relies on endorsements for much of his income, and the ad will hurt the value of his endorsement rights and confuse consumers into believing he endorses Samsung products, the complaint added.
Samsung spokeswoman Danielle Meister Cohen declined to comment.
The lawsuit was filed by Pele IP Ownership LLC, which owns Pelé’s trademark and publicity rights. It is dated March 16, and was reported earlier by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Pelé is represented by Frederick Sperling, a lawyer who helped former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan win a $8.9 million jury verdict last August against the former Dominick’s Finer Foods over the grocer’s unauthorised use of the basketball Hall of Famer’s identity in an ad in Sport Illustrated.
Jordan later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Sperling did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment. Pelé’s given name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
The case is Pele IP Ownership LLC v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 16-03354.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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