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When Deborah Ann Bell sought admission to Stone Academy in Hamden, Conn., her application included the line, “I agree that any publicity pictures taken by or for the school may be reproduced for publicity purposes.” Bell enrolled there with the intent to become a court reporter, but inadvertently wound up with a side job — that as unpaid TV endorsement spokesperson. Now a judicial department employee, Bell claims she was surprised when the school used her likeness year after year, and eventually sued it for economic loss and emotional distress, contending Stone Academy stole “the fair value of her face and voice, for its economic gain.” Her failure to give the school any specific limit on how long it could use her likeness proved fatal, however. In a recent decision, New Haven Superior Court Judge Angela C. Robinson-Thomas granted Stone Academy’s summary judgment motion, ruling for the defendant on all counts. Bell has appeared in two 30-second TV ads for the school, for periods of five to seven seconds. In one, she gushes, “The teachers are exceptional. The staff is there for you 100 percent.” In the other, Bell states, “I am a recent graduate of the Court Conference Reporting Program and I would like to tell you that the program is exceptional.” NO CONTRADICTORY LIMITATION In the past, Bell stated in an affidavit, the school filmed graduates at their graduation for use in ads, and ran them on an annual or semi-annual basis. She was filmed in 1998, and has been appearing in ads through 2002, possibly longer through “cut and paste” appearances. “No one told me anything to contradict my personal knowledge of the past practice of the [school] concerning the frequency of replacement of such television videos,” she maintained. But in an affidavit of his own, William N. Mangini, director of Stone Academy, contended that Bell’s lawsuit was the first notice the school had that she wanted to be paid or objected to the continuing publicity. Mangini maintained that Bell’s emotional distress is due to “not being paid.” Hartford attorney John L. Bonee III represented Stone Academy in the case. The administration was completely shocked to be sued, said Bonee, adding: “The school just assumed that it was without time limit. … [T]here was no contradictory limitation placed on the college. And as soon as it was sued, [the school] stopped running the ad.” Stone Academy administrators, he added, thought Bell “would be complimented that they kept running it. [The ads] indicated that the academy was very proud to have her as one of its spokespersons, in a sense,” Bonee said. Norman Pattis, of New Haven’s Williams & Pattis, brought the suit on Bell’s behalf. Although Bell decided not to wage an appeal, Pattis said a request for the waiver of all publicity rights, as part of an academic application, “smacks of an adhesion contract,” and was certainly made between parties in unequal bargaining positions. Intellectual property lawyer Edward B. Chansky, of Westport’s Levett Rockwood, is not connected with the case. In his evaluation of the terms in the case record, Robinson-Thomas made the correct call in granting summary judgment with a bare minimum of legal language. “In the case of professional models, say for an ad for Heinz ketchup, [they] will actually specify in the contract that the picture can be used for ketchup only, print media only, in the U.S. only, for 12 moths only — and for each of those categories, geography, time and medium, they would charge an additional fee,” Chansky said. On the other hand, “Most people, who get asked for a release, sign a very detailed release,” Chansky noted. “Say you won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes; the Prize Patrol and Ed McMahon arrive with a check. They’ll ask you to sign a form to use your name and likeness and biographical information such as your hometown, for Publishers Clearing House advertising in any and all media, throughout the world, perpetually without restriction.” Without any limit specified, the question becomes what was the intention of the parties. Chansky said a very simple reading of the school’s waiver would be that it was for an unlimited time, but limited to promoting the school. Was it reasonable for her to believe that it would only be for a year? The admission application wasn’t like a contract with an integration clause, excluding subsequent modifications, so even oral statements could be important in answering that question, Chansky noted.

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