"Salaries for Rights Clearance types just went up. Way up."

So said Jordan Stratford on adlist when he tipped us to the story of the model whose image was used for years without his permission on Taster's Choice coffee labels.

Back in 1986 Russell Christoff posed for a two-hour Nestlé photo shoot, and when he didn't hear back from them he thought that the job had gone to another model. In 2002 when he was out looking for bloody mary mix at a local drug store he found his face on the Taster's Choice cans staring back at him.

Off to court they went, with Christoff wanting to to settle for $8.5-million, while Nestlé USA thought $100,000 would do, the jury in the end jury has awarded Christoff $15.6-million. CBS News:

"There was a jar with my picture on it," he told The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen Tuesday, "and I was just a bit surprised. After the shock, which lasted, you know, a few seconds, I picked it up and I walked up and I showed the jar to a woman that works there and I said, 'Look.' And she said, 'Wow! That's you!' And I said, 'Thank you. I will take this jar!' "

A legal dispute with Nestle USA ensued, during which Christoff, 58, declined the company's $100,000 settlement offer, and Nestle USA turned down his offer to settle for $8.5 million.

"I never gave my consent," he said to Chen. "We had a contract that spelled out the terms of the agreement, but there was just no follow-up on it.

"I filed it away, and the contract sat there for 18, 19 years and -- I save things, which I guess is obvious. And no. They never had the permission."

Last week, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury ordered Nestle USA to pay Christoff $15.6 million for using his likeness without his permission and profiting from it. The award includes 5 percent of the Glendale-based company's profit from Taster's Choice sales from 1997 to 2003.

During that time, Nestle sold the freeze-dried coffee with labels featuring Christoff's face in the United States, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Israel and Kuwait. The company's Canadian arm started using his image in 1986.

Nestle USA attorney Lawrence Heller said the company would appeal the verdict.

"The employee that pulled the photo thought they had consent to use the picture," Heller said.

Eric Stockel, an attorney for Christoff, said he hadn't expected such a large verdict.

Christoff, who while working as a model had appeared in corporate training videos and hosted his own public television show, is now a kindergarten teacher in the Bay Area community of Antioch.

He first came across his picture while shopping for bloody mary mix, and says there's a good reason he didn't spot it sooner.

"I don't buy Taster's Choice," he said. "I do beans."

See also A man, a label and a lawsuit;

On the one hand, you might think such a lawsuit would be straightforward: Did Christoff allow Nestle to use his picture? And if so, for how long? But, aha, thanks to a little legal term called “statutes of limitations,” the case turned out to be far from straightforward. The California Supreme Court on Monday reversed a lower court decision ruling that Christoff filed suit outside the statute of limitations for such a claim.

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

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