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Christoff v. Nestle

In 1986, professional model Russell Christoff was paid $250 to pose for a photograph to be used in Canada on a label for bricks of coffee. Sixteen years later, Christoff saw his face on a jar of Taster‟s Choice instant coffee in the United States and discovered that his image had been used without his consent on millions of labels sold internationally for the preceding five years. Christoff filed the present action for appropriation of his likeness six years after Nestlé USA, Inc. (Nestlé), began using his image on the Taster‟s Choice label but less than a year after his discovery.

The trial court applied a two-year statute of limitations and instructed the jury to determine under the discovery rule whether Christoff knew or should have known earlier that Nestlé had used his image. The jury found that Christoff did not know, and should not reasonably have suspected prior to seeing the jar, that his image was being used without his consent and awarded him more than $15 million in damages.

The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that under the single-publication rule, because Christoff had not filed his lawsuit within two years after Nestlé first “published” the label, his cause of action is barred by the statute of limitations unless, on remand, the trier of fact finds that Nestlé had hindered Christoff‟s discovery of the use of his photograph, or that the label had been “republished.” We granted review.

We agree with the Court of Appeal that the judgment must be reversed because the trial court erroneously ruled that the single-publication rule does not apply to claims for appropriation of likeness. But we do not agree with the Court of Appeal that this means that Christoff‟s action necessarily is barred by the statute of limitations unless he can show on remand that Nestlé had hindered his discovery of the use of his photograph, or that the label had been “republished.” The Court of Appeal‟s ruling presupposes that Nestlé‟s various uses of Christoff‟s likeness, including its production of the product label for a five-year period, necessarily constituted a “single publication” within the meaning of the single-publication rule. Because the parties were prevented by the trial court‟s erroneous legal ruling from developing a record concerning whether the single-publication rule applied, we remand the matter for further proceedings.

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