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Is Imitation Always the Most Sincerest Form of Flattery?

Brazilian soccer phenomenon Pele has filed a $30 million lawsuit against Samsung for publishing a newspaper ad with a Pele “lookalike.”

Back in 2013, Pele and Samsung had a discussed a possible deal of an ad campaign featuring Pele, but at the last minute Samsung backed out of the deal according to court documents. Samsung later released an ad in October of 2015 in the New York Times that featured the face of a man smiling next to a television showing a soccer player making a scissors-kick. The ad was problematic for Pele because the featured man resembled him greatly and the soccer player on the TV screen was doing a scissor-kick, which is a soccer technique mastered by Pele.


Pele’s lawsuit was filed on the grounds that Samsung claiming the company behaved in a deliberate and distasteful manner by promoting their product with a Pele “lookalike.” In using this ad, Samsung helped their company while also managing to violate his rights and weakening the value of his brand.

According to Pele’s legal team, the point of case is to “obtain fair compensation for the unauthorized use of Pele’s identity and to prevent future unauthorized uses.” Does Pele have a valid case?


Cases such as Pele’s are not uncommon. Pele’s lawyer, Fred Sperling, was also the lawyer in basketball player Michael Jordan’s case against a grocery store. During the summer of 2015, Michael Jordan was awarded $8.9 million by a jury in the lawsuit after claiming that the company used his likeness without his approval.

Companies often times find themselves in tight situations where they are required to find the most effective and efficient promotional tools while also remaining within a budget. It can be argued that Samsung indeed did seek a lookalike in order to get the same message across just at a more affordable price since Pele receives most of his earnings from endorsements, which suggests his rates may be high. In using a lookalike, Samsung remained within their financial budget, which is in the company’s best interest. Their behavior brings up the topic of ethical business behavior. Was Samsung unethical in using a lookalike and then making references in their ad that may have suggested that the man featured was Pele or was it just a smart business tactic? I believe it was both. I believe Pele has a valid argument and although it was smart on Samsung’s part, the company did in fact violate the rights of a citizen.


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