The VH1 reality series Basketball Wives has stirred up a fair bit of controversy not only for the actions of the women involved, but also through a variety of lawsuits aimed at preventing some women from participating. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh have sued or threatened to sue to prevent their ex's from taking part in the show. This past week, Gilbert Arenas joined the fray as he filed suit against his ex-girlfriend Laura Govan and the production company responsible for the show. While the whole situation seems fairly ridiculous, Arenas' lawsuit (PDF) could be the tipping point in ending the show.
While Howard sued just his girlfriend over a gag order and Bosh only threatened a suit, Arenas filed a lawsuit that goes to the heart of the show and the brand it is trying to build. Arenas filed suit citing seven different claims for relief including four from the federal Lanham Act which provides for federal trademark law. He does not need to win on each claim, but rather is simply providing the court with alternate options for finding in his favor.
The seven claims for relief include:
1. Trademark Infringement - 15 USC 1125(a)
2. Trademark Dilution - 15 USC 1125(c)
3. False Advertising - 15 USC 1125(a)
4. False Endorsement - 15 USC 1125(a)
5. California Common Law Misappropriation of Likeness and Right of Publicity
6. Misappropriation of Likeness and Right of Publicity - Cal. Civ. Code 3344
7. Unfair Competition - Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200
Under the trademark infringement claim, Arenas claims that Gilbert Arenas is a valid and distinctive mark and his name, persona and identity serve as his trademark for purposes of endorsements. He claims his name has a high level of recognition among the demographic that watches Basketball Wives and the defendant production company is trying to exploit that for commercial gain through Arenas' former relationship with Govan.
The show itself doesn't make explicit reference to Arenas but according to Arenas, Govan's presence combined with the title of the show creates an obvious reference to Arenas and his likeness. He cites to a Washington Post story writing about the show and referring to Govan as Arenas' ex in her introduction to the show.
Additionally, the production company will use Arenas' likeness in advertising and promotion which is likely to cause confusion or cause mistake or to deceive as to the affiliation between Arenas and the show. Arenas claims this has been done without authorization and viewers are likely to assume affiliation.
The second claim for relief is under a theory of trademark dilution. Under this theory, Arenas claims the defendants use of his marks and likeness in their advertising is likely to cause dilution by blurring or tarnishment "as Plaintiff will be associated with the embarrassing behavior and antics often associated with such shows[.]" Given the nature of reality shows, it's understandable he would not want to be associated with them. Of course, given the antics and occasionally embarrassing behavior of Agent Zero, one could argue this is the pot calling the kettle black.
The third claim is based on false advertising. According to Arenas, the show's title and participation of Govan based on her relationship with Arenas, are likely to mislead or confuse consumers into thinking that Govan is either married to Arenas and/or has special insight into Arenas' current life. Arenas points to a press release for the show that specifically states the show "will dive into the real-life locker room of these leading ladies, giving viewers a never-before-seen look at what it takes to live in La La Land and be connected to a famous professional athlete." (emphasis added by Arenas).
Additionally, Arenas claims the show's use of the title Basketball Wives: Los Angeles and the participation of Govan has deceived or has a tendency to deceive a substantial segment of the audience.
Under the false endorsement claim, Arenas contends the defendants' use of his identity, persona, likeness and celebrity constitutes or suggests Arenas endorses the show.
California Common Law Misappropriation of Likeness and Right of Publicity
Under California common law, Arenas claims the defendants used his enforceable right of identity and likeness without his permission in order to draw a larger audience for the show. Additionally, the use is likely to cause damage to the commercial value of Arenas' persona.
Misappropriation of Likeness and Right of Publicity
This sixth claim is the same as California common law version but the unauthorized use was for commercial and/or business purposes. Although the two misappropriation claims are in California, the common law one was created through the courts while this one is based on statutory language. They are similar but this statutory claim includes the specific requirement of being for commercial and/or business purposes.
This final claim is a basic catch-all in hopes of having the show enjoined from its various acts. Under California law, Arenas contends their actions are unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices in violation of Section 17200 et seq. of the California Business and Professions Code.
Remedies: In filing this suit, Arenas is claiming damages of at least $75,000 based and an injunction against the defendants. Additionally, he is asking for triple damages and attorneys fees because he claims the acts were knowing, intentional, wanton and willful.
A significant issue Arenas raises in this lawsuit is the fact that the show uses a mix of current and ex-wives and girlfriends. In using the title Basketball Wives, it creates an inference that they're all wives of players. Some of the promotional material mentioned below would also indicate they are still involved in the players' lives and can comment accordingly.
However, some of these women have been through messy breakups with their respective NBA player. If Arenas were to win his lawsuit and prevent the inclusion of Govan, one has to wonder whether other players would file suit to prevent their ex's from taking part in the show. Arenas makes the argument that the title of the show is misleading as it applies to him. In reality it's misleading as it applies to most of the participants. As ridiculous as this whole case may seem, it could lead to the end of this show or at least a title change to accurately reflect the participants involved.