Merlin Media billboards may violate state law


New Chicagoland billboards for Merlin Media’s WIQI-FM that say “He Never Listens,” in reference to former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich, are getting some pushback from Blago and attorney Sheldon Sorosky, who defended him in court. He says the billboards are a violation of the law under the state Right of Publicity Act, which says, in part, that a person’s image cannot be used for commercial purposes without their permission.

“There isn’t any doubt it’s for commercial purposes,” he told The Chicago Tribune, adding that no decision has been made on whether to file suit. “It’s clearly a violation of the law…There has been an emotional response. Obviously, his daughters have seen it and are hurt and offended by it.”

John Gehron, Merlin Chairman/Advisory Board, told the paper the company believes it is well within its First Amendment rights, adding it is part of an advertising push to highlight the relatively new station, which was converted to news from alternative rock last summer.
Jonathan Jennings, a partner at the Chicago firm of Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson who helped draft Right of Publicity Act, said there is some leeway if the advertising is used in relation to specific news coverage or a story. While not involved in the Blagojevich billboard issue, Jennings said that from what he has seen, he doesn’t believe that to be the case. “It’s not clear to me that it is tied to news coverage, his time in prison or anything like that,” Jennings said.

Blago reported to prison in March to begin serving a 14-year sentence on federal corruption convictions.

See the Tribune story here.