Schwarzenegger and his attorneys are vigilant in guarding the use of his image.
Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO — When an Oregon brewery introduced the “Governator Ale” in January, the company proclaimed it would be “no girly-man beer.” It promised to brew 3,200 cases for California drinkers under a Pumping Iron label.
Then the weight came down.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s lawyers demanded that the Portland Brewing Co. cease making beer that exploited the governor’s image for profit. The company quickly complied and a settlement is in the works.
The short, unhappy life of “Governator Ale” is representative of dozens of business ventures that have attempted to profit from Schwarzenegger’s image as a tough guy, bodybuilder and tax-cutting politician.
As an actor, Schwarzenegger was well-known in Hollywood for aggressively protecting his carefully crafted image through letters from his team of lawyers and, occasionally, lawsuits seeking monetary damages.
His attorney Martin D. Singer has built a reputation as a tenacious advocate for his high-profile Hollywood clients, who include Celine Dion and Eddie Murphy. Reporters covering celebrities have complained about receiving hostile letters from Singer while pursuing tips about his clients.
Schwarzenegger’s election as governor and his newfound status as a public official have not curbed the zeal of his advisors to protect his image. If someone profits from or distorts his image, legal experts say, he can still sue for economic damages — even as governor.
In the months since the recall, Schwarzenegger’s hard-nosed lawyers say, they have been on alert for unauthorized ads and products.
They took issue with a Southern California car dealership, for example, that featured Schwarzenegger in an advertisement that thanked him for reducing the state’s car registration fees. Likewise, they have taken action against a company that produced a greeting card featuring Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, without authorization.
“There is a new front in the war” now that Schwarzenegger is governor, said his business advisor, Paul Wachter. “Where it used to be Arnold in his movies, now sometimes it may be Arnold as Arnold, or even Arnold and Maria, who has her own rights to protect.”
The state has an interest in protecting Schwarzenegger’s image as well, said Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. The governor “wants to use himself as a pitchman, which has a tremendous value to benefit California,” because it allows him to control the political agenda advanced in his name.
Schwarzenegger is about to launch an advertising campaign promoting California as a good place to do business. He already has produced one TV ad, filmed at a state beach, that is scheduled to be aired this spring.
“You don’t overexpose an asset like the governor,” Stutzman said. “If it’s not special anymore to see the governor promoting something, then you lose an advantage that we otherwise would have. That’s just a fundamental principle of marketing.”
It’s not about money, Stutzman said. Schwarzenegger is focused on governing and promoting California, he said. The governor has no plans to do any commercial ads for products or to act in any more movies. (Last July, Schwarzenegger filmed a cameo appearance as Prince Hapi in a remake of “Around the World in 80 Days,” set for release June 16.)
Schwarzenegger, who has rejected his $175,000-a-year salary as governor, has put his financial assets in a blind trust managed by Wachter.
Schwarzenegger surprised some of his aides last month by agreeing to edit and write a column for Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines, not publications in which statesmen’s names often appear. At least some aides worried that the new job could taint his image and prompt comparisons with Jesse Ventura, who announced XFL football games while serving as governor of Minnesota.
Schwarzenegger has scrupulously tracked and crafted how people view him. After Schwarzenegger complained, he received an apology from the Globe tabloid newspaper for a story saying that his heart was a “ticking time bomb,” and he forced a British tabloid to pay damages for claiming he admired Nazi views.
Garry South, the former political advisor to Gov. Gray Davis, said he had received an angry letter from Singer after he distributed a 2001 Premier magazine article that claimed Schwarzenegger had groped women on movie sets.
“This you have done at your peril,” Singer wrote to South in his letter, which itself was copyrighted. South said he was surprised that Schwarzenegger had reacted so vehemently to what South considered a small provocation.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger views himself as a brand,” said Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a political watchdog group. “Despite the fact that he is a public servant and in the public eye and is subject to all kinds of lampooning, he is very protective of his brand because Arnold is Arnold’s biggest profit center.”
The image guardians such as Wachter, Singer and Stutzman routinely scrutinize TV, radio, print and consumer products. If they find an offending advertisement, Schwarzenegger’s attorneys usually start with a cease-and-desist letter that may include a monetary settlement proposal, depending on the offense. In some cases Schwarzenegger has asked for settlements to be donated to charity, Singer said.
“He doesn’t file a lot of lawsuits,” Singer said. “When he makes these claims, people generally want to resolve this without a lawsuit because they know there is liability. If they don’t act responsibly and they don’t want to resolve it, then we sue.”
One high-profile case landed in court in 2002 after an Ohio car dealership included a 1-inch-square photograph of the “Terminator” with the tag line: “Arnold Says: Terminate Early at Fred Martin.”
The actor sued for $20 million, which his lawyers said was close to the largest amount Schwarzenegger had been offered for doing an ad in the United States. A federal judge threw the case out for lack of jurisdiction, but an appeal is pending.
The car dealership denies Schwarzenegger suffered much damage from the small photograph of one of his characters in an Akron, Ohio, newspaper ad. Roy Weatherup, a Los Angeles attorney who is representing Fred Martin Motor Co., said the defense also may argue in court, if the case reaches trial, that the Terminator character is controlled by Creative Licensing Corp. and Canal Plus studio, not the governor.
Schwarzenegger recently settled a lawsuit with International Game Technology, based in Reno, which produced a Terminator slot machine using the actor’s image and voice. The machines were never used in Nevada, but a few showed up in Japan and were handed over to Schwarzenegger’s attorneys in the settlement, Singer said.
The “Governator” beer was created by Portland Brewing Chief Executive Jerome Chicvara, who told reporters at the time that “we did this for fun.” The beer was sold in 22-ounce bottles with a label depicting a muscular man — until Schwarzenegger’s lawyers stepped in. Chicvara did not return calls for comment.
Wachter said he and other lawyers for the governor find out about most of the ads through Schwarzenegger’s fans and friends. “We don’t have a police force out there,” Wachter said, but they do rely on people such as the Texas police officer who informed them about a gym in his town using Schwarzenegger’s image in ads.
In the United States, the only TV ads featuring Schwarzenegger have been for his movies and for political ventures, such as the after-school initiative he sponsored in 2002 and promotion of Propositions 57 and 58, the $15-billion bond and spending-restriction measures that voters passed earlier this month.
But before he became governor, Schwarzenegger appeared in several TV and print ads in Japan. Like many Hollywood stars, he carefully protected his image in the United States by rarely appearing in product advertising, but agreed to act in goofy, over-the-top TV commercials overseas.
In one Japanese ad for an energy drink, Schwarzenegger juggles two men and then screams maniacally into the camera and flashes a gaptoothed smile. He’s done commercials in Japan for Hops beer, Nissin noodles and DirecTV satellite service, among other things.
Lawyers who represent celebrities said Schwarzenegger could claim trademark status on his most identifiable expressions, images and companies, including the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic bodybuilding competition, the term “Pumping Iron” and even his personal signature.
In two famous cases, former talk show host Johnny Carson successfully stopped a portable toilet company from selling “Here’s Johnny” facilities, and Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White successfully argued that an ad showing a robot with a blond wig turning letters on a similar game show had misappropriated her image.
Actors and comedians have a right to parody the governor, legal scholars said, even if their TV or radio shows profit from it. But Schwarzenegger’s dual role as governor and celebrity presents challenges for some advertisers and companies.
A car dealers association, for example, might be able to thank the governor for the car tax cut, but an ad from an individual dealer featuring Schwarzenegger, pictures of cars and their prices probably would cross the line, one attorney said.
Lawrence Y. Iser, an attorney with Greenberg, Glusker in Los Angeles who has represented the Beatles and Michael Jackson, said Schwarzenegger nevertheless “has earned the fame associated with his name and likeness, and he doesn’t surrender that to become our No. 1 civil servant.”