Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corp – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corp. (9th Cir. 1996) 85 F.3d 407, the plaintiff sued the defendant for using his former name, Lew Alcindor, in a commercial broadcast during the 1993 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) men's basketball tournament.

Initially, the commercial asked, "Who holds the record for being voted the most outstanding player of this tournament?" The plaintiff's name and the three years he received the award were then printed on the screen.

The commercial then informed the viewer that the "Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight" had made the "Consumer Digest's Best Buy" list "three years in a row."

In addition to suing for false endorsement, the plaintiff alleged violations of his common law and statutory rights to publicity. ( Id. at pp. 409-410.)

In its reversal of the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the defendant, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the plaintiff's right of publicity claims against the defendant due to the unconsented use of his sports statistics in an advertisement.

"While Lew Alcindor's basketball record may be said to be 'newsworthy,' its use is not automatically privileged.

The defendant used the information in the context of an automobile advertisement, not in a news or sports account." ( Id. at p. 416).