CHICAGO (CN) – Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s wife claims in court that a talk radio station used her husband’s image on billboards without permission, in “insensitive” ads that sought financial gain.
Patricia Blagojevich sued Merlin Media, owner of FM 101.1, a conservative talk station, in Cook County Court.
First, Blagojevich claims, the station used her incarcerated husband’s face in a billboard next to the words “He Never Listens … to FM News 101.1”
When listeners complained that the billboards were “insensitive,” Blagojevich says, the defendants replaced her husband’s face with a smiley face, topped by his signature eyebrows and hairdo.
Rod Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison term for of 17 counts of corruption , including trying to sell President Barack Obama’s former seat in the U.S. Senate.
“(I)n order to attract more listeners to FM101, Merlin launched an advertising campaign that featured billboards throughout the FM101 broadcast area,” the complaint states.
“On or about May 2012 and at all times relevant, Merlin also placed advertisements on buses and trains of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
“On or about May 2012 and at all times relevant, the billboards and CTA advertisements featured the likeness of Rod R. Blagojevich. An example of one billboard is reproduced below and attached as Exhibit A. Defendant Merlin did not have the right to control or choose whether and how to use Mr. Blagojevich’s identity for commercial purposes.
“Merlin and FM101 never asked permission from plaintiff or Rod Blagojevich to use his likeness in connection with Merlin’s advertisements for FM101.
“On or about May 2012 and at all times relevant, Merlin believed that the advertisements featuring Mr. Blagojevich would be fun and get people’s attention.”
But by June, Blagojevich claims, “Merlin and FM101 received complaints from listeners that the advertisements featuring Mr. Blagojevich were insensitive. …
“Merlin through its spokesman and agent John Gehron stated that the station (FM101) and Merlin wanted to be responsive to the listeners’ complaints.
“On or about June 2012, and at all times relevant, Merlin decided to alter the advertisements by using a yellow smiley face and also using Mr. Blagojevich’s likeness, specifically his hairstyle, eyebrows and the same clothing from the original advertisement.”
The smiley-face version of the ad used the same caption.
Patricia Blagojevich claims that “Merlin was asked to not use Mr. Blagojevich’s likeness in its advertisements,” but it kept doing it anyway.
“Because of Mr. Blagojevich’s image used in Merlin’s advertisements more listeners tuned to FM101, and on information and belief increased revenues and profits,” she claims.
“Merlin and FM101 gained media and listener attention from the use of Mr. Blagojevich’s likeness.
“Merlin’s spokesman stated that the billboards had their desired effect because FM101’s ratings were up.
“On or about mid-June 2012, Merlin began to remove the advertisement featuring Mr. Blagojevich.”
Patricia Blagojevich seeks punitive damages of more than $30,000 for violation of the Illinois Right to Publicity Act.
She is represented by Christopher Niro with Niro, Haller & Niro.