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Honey Rockwell Can’t Prove She Was Exploited

ATLANTA (CN) - Hip-hop dancer Honey Rockwell failed to persuade a federal judge that producers exploited her life story in a film that allegedly damaged her image.

Ereina Valencia, a Hispanic hip-hop dancer and dance teacher, assumed the stage name "Honey Rockwell" in 1994. A native of the Bronx, Valencia performed and taught dance at various dance centers and theaters in the Bronx, appeared in international dance productions, and was featured in dance magazines.

Valencia claimed the film "Honey," released in 2003, used her name, likeness and life story as inspiration for its fictional character Honey Daniels, a hip hop dancer of Hispanic descent born in the Bronx.

Jessica Alba starred as Honey Daniels, a bartender and dance teacher chasing the dream of working as a choreographer for hip hop music videos. The film, released by Universal Studios, received mostly negative reviews. Its sequel, "Honey 2," was released in 2011.

Valencia argued that the fictional character used her stage name, had the same origins and taught at the same dance studios in the Bronx. She claimed she had been identified with the movie character, and even asked to appear at a movie release party as "the real Honey."

According to Valencia, the association with the "Honey" character damaged her image and her brand as a dancer and caused confusion about the origins of her story.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story last week dismissed Valencia's invasion-of-privacy claims against the California-based producers as time-barred, noting that the dancer should have brought them within two years of the release of the "Honey" movies.

Valencia failed to persuade the court that her lack of familiarity with the movie industry prevented her from discovering the producers' identities and filing the lawsuit earlier.

The dancer, who admitted she had known about the first "Honey" film since 2003, cannot argue that her 2014 lawsuit was timely based on the alleged harm caused by the movies' continued licensing, according to the Dec. 18 ruling.

As to Valencia's trademark and unfair competition claims, Story agreed that the dancer had failed to establish ownership of trademark rights associated with the "Honey" films. Although the dancer showed that she had performed and taught dance under the name Honey Rockwell, she failed to allege she had used the mark "Honey," according to the 24-page order.

Valencia claimed that she had been approached as "the real Honey" to show that the films may have caused confusion as to her stage name and life story. However, her claims for deceptive trade practices are barred by the First Amendment, which protects the films as artistic expression.

Since Valencia failed to prove the existence of a contract, her unjust enrichment claim also fails, the ruling adds.

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