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Trench warfare: Bogie's heirs sue Burberry

Humphrey Bogart -- in a Burberry trench coat -- and Ingrid Bergman in a scene from the 1943 film Casablanca.


His most memorable sayings tend to be trenchant, terse and less than 140 characters, but even so it's a little hard to imagine tough-guy Humphrey Bogart – were he alive today – would embrace Twitter, never mind Facebook.

Certainly his heirs have no doubt. Bogart LLC, which manages Bogie's publicity rights on behalf of his children with Lauren Bacall, filed suit this week against Burberry Ltd. over the unauthorized use of the legendary actor's image in a social-media campaign.

"Burberry's business hinges on respect for its own intellectual property rights, so it is quite surprising to see that it apparently has so little respect for the clear rights of others," said publicity rights attorney Michael O. Crain in a release.

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Bogart's son Stephen was even more blunt. "This is such an incredibly disappointing and disrespectful action by Burberry," he said. "What's next, a cigarette company can start an advertising program claiming Bogie smoked its brand, and there's nothing our family can do about it?"

The lawsuit stems from an international campaign by Burberry earlier this year, according to the statement from Bogart LLC. "Using online social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, Burberry advertised globally that Humphrey Bogart wore a Burberry trench coat in the final scene of Casablanca."

Which, of course, he did.

However: "The Bogart Estate … never gave permission for the use of Humphrey Bogart's image in this advertising campaign," the lawsuit alleges.

The London-based clothing maker wasted no time in answering the allegations, launching a lawsuit of its own the same day, "seeking a declaration that it has not infringed the late Humphrey Bogart's trademark rights by using a photo of him in a Burberry trench coat in a historical timeline on social media sites."

In its complaint filed in New York federal court on Wednesday, and reported by Law360, the luxury goods maker insists its use of the iconic movie photo, "was a historical positioning of the image within an educational project along with numerous other photographs of people wearing Burberry apparel over the last century."

Burberry says it licensed the image from photo agency Corbis and launched the timelines this year on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The company contends it has a "basic right … to tell the history of its brand."

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There's no telling who'll come out on top in the battle of the trench coats, Burberry or Bogie's heirs, but since both have deep pockets, it's worth remembering one of the Hollywood legend's most enduring quotations: "The only good reason to have money is this: So that you can tell any SOB in the world to go to hell."

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