JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Two Playboy Playmates and seven other models were awarded $150,000 by a federal jury this week after a lengthy lawsuit against two Florida strip clubs which made unauthorized use of their images to promote events.
The nine models — including Playmates Jessica Burciaga and Sara Underwood, NFL cheerleaders and actresses — sued Michael Tomkovich, owner of Florida strip clubs Flash Dancers and Thee Officers Club, in 2016 over Facebook ads which his venues ran between 2013 and 2015.
The lawsuit alleged that Tomkovich deliberately created the “false and misleading appearance” that the models were featuring or dancing at those clubs.
Though the jury did not find that the models suffered actual damages, they did award them statutory and reasonable royalty damages. They were individually awarded between $10,000 and $30,000.
Part of their allegations was that the Facebook ads implied that the models supported “a salacious strip club lifestyle.” A “Twisted Tuesday” ad presented as evidence featured an unauthorized photo of model Jamie Eason with the copy “We have Lauren behind the bar making all those signature drinks you enjoy and DJ Chris in the booth all night!”
The clubs were found in breach of “right of publicity” legislation, which includes the federal Lanham Act (the Trademark Act of 1946) and several state laws. Many celebrities and reality stars protect their lucrative images vigorously in what has become a cottage industry for enterprising attorneys. In 2018 alone, for example, Carmen Electra filed at least 21 trademark suits.
The nine models in the Florida suit, known as Paola Canas et al. v. Flash Dancers Inc. et al., were represented by San Diego-based Casas Law Firm PC, which specializes in that type of litigation.