Cardinals Manager LaRussa Sues Twitter Over His 'Image'
Like rap star Kanye West, actor Ewan McGregor, and countless other celebrities, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was impersonated on Twitter.
But LaRussa appears to be the only one to take the matter to court. Last month, he quietly filed a lawsuit against the platform, alleging that the fake page infringed on his trademark and his right to control the commercial use of his image.
The page, Twitter.com/TonyLaRussa (now removed), seems to have been devoted to mocking him for a 2007 drunk driving arrest. One of the entries began: "Lost 2 out of 3, but we made it out of Chicago without one drunk driving incident," according his lawsuit.
LaRussa asserts that the page, which also carried his picture, has caused him "significant emotional distress and damage to his reputation."
He argues in his complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, that Twitter is liable because the company owns the page. He also alleges that Twitter should be held accountable because the site has profited from the use of his name. "The site states in large lettering: 'Tony LaRussa is using Twitter,' and encourages users to 'Join today to start receiving Tony LaRussa's updates,'" the lawsuit alleges.
But Internet lawyers say it's not clear either that the site infringed LaRussa's trademark or that Twitter can be held responsible.
Trademark infringement generally requires that a name be used in commerce. But here, whoever created the LaRussa Twitter page doesn't appear to be trying to sell anything. On the contrary, the page -- which contains a blurb reading "bio parodies are fun for everyone" -- seems to be a joke.
For that reason, allegations that the profile itself infringed LaRussa's trademark seem weak, says Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project. "I would question whether the person who created this site was using the mark in connection with goods and services."
Other courts have held that parody sites are protected by the First Amendment, as are gripe sites like Walocaust.com, created by a critic of the retail giant.
But the allegation that Twitter is liable for trademark infringement because it uses LaRussa's name to promote its platform might be murkier, says Corynne McSherry, a lawyer with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation. She says that even if the person who created the page intended it as parody, a court might find that Twitter used LaRussa's name in commerce to entice others to join the site.
Twitter and LaRussa's attorney did not return messages seeking comment.