Not so hot: Hallmark, Paris Hilton settle 3-year-old lawsuit over ‘that’s hot’ greeting card

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hallmark, Paris Hilton settle ‘that’s hot’ lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hallmark Cards Inc. says a greeting card using Paris Hilton’s “that’s hot” catch phrase and image was meant as a parody. But the celebrity socialite apparently didn’t appreciate the humor.

The Kansas City-based greeting card giant and the hotel heiress have reached a settlement in a 3-year-old lawsuit over the card, a company spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The deal was sealed, and Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O’Dell declined to provide details. Hilton’s lawsuit had sought a half-million dollars.

“All I can say is we did settle,” O’Dell said. “We were able to reach a mutually acceptable conclusion.”

Hilton’s attorneys had said the company misappropriated Hilton’s image and her catch phrase, which she trademarked in 2007, months before the lawsuit was filed against Hallmark.

“This was a calculated way to use Miss Hilton’s actual photo, name and catch phrase by Hallmark to draw attention to Hallmark’s product,” Brent Blakely, Hilton’s attorney, told the AP.

Blakely said the case was significant in that it gave courts direction on how to judge a case dealing with the right of free speech versus the right of someone to control and profit from their persona. A trial had been scheduled to begin in December.

“All trial was going to be about is, what is the commercial value of Paris Hilton’s likeness,” he said. “In many situations, that is based on comparables. Fortunately in our case, Miss Hilton has numerous endorsement deals and we had a good idea” of her commercial value.

Hallmark attorneys had argued that using Hilton’s face on top of a cartoonish image was “transformative,” meaning the image had been changed enough that it became Hallmark’s own expression, the Kansas City Star reported. The company said the card warranted a “public interest” defense.

But that argument was rejected last year by an appellate court because a birthday card “does not publish or report information,” according to the ruling.

O’Dell said it was unclear whether the settlement would change how Hallmark decides which cards to sell.

“Our card decisions are based on consumers and the kind of product they want at any time,” she said. “One of our goals is to stay with the times, stay relevant. When we feel we can do that, especially in our humor lines, we probably will.”

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