Television host Bob Vila filed suit Tuesday against an Illinois-based public relations specialist who allegedly licensed Vila’s name without his permission to promote home improvement expositions in the Midwest.
Robert Smith promoted Vila as a client and then sold the television personality’s name and likeness to third parties to use in promotional materials, according to a lawsuit filed in Illinois federal court.
“Defendant offers to third parties a contract that purportedly conveys a ‘negotiated celebrity endorsement from Bob Vila,’” despite the fact that Vila has “never entered into any agreement, written or otherwise, granting the above-mentioned rights that defendant purports to have or license,” according to the complaint.
Vila and his companies, Vila Media LLC and Vila Promotions LLC, say they own the rights to five trademarks covering the television host’s name and likeness and have the sole authority to license out those rights.
Despite this, Vila says Smith charged Brilliant Event Planning Inc. at least $5,000 for use of Vila’s name to promote a home improvement exposition in the suburbs of Chicago. According to exhibits posted alongside the complaint, Brilliant Event handed out flyers, sent out press releases and used platforms like Youtube and Eventbrite to advertise the expo as Bob Vila approved.
Brilliant also allegedly told expo goers that the personality would be giving a presentation at the event and, when he didn’t show, attendees were made to believe that Vila was at fault.
“Upon information and belief, when attendees questioned when plaintiff would appear at the event, attendees were told that it was unclear; that plaintiff had yet to arrive; that plaintiff had already departed; or that plaintiff had failed to show up to the event entirely,” according to the complaint.
The suit alleges Smith did this with at least one other company based in Indianapolis known as Window World but didn’t give any specifics about that incident.
Vila is suing Smith for violations of the federal Lanham Act, the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act and the Illinois Right of Publicity Act. The former host of PBS series This Old House and author of 11 books is asking for $2 million for each unauthorized use of his likeness.
Smith declined to comment.
Vila is represented by Mark Bagley of Toplin & Partners PC and Scott Sholder and Brittany Kaplan of Cowan Debaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP.
Counsel information for Smith wasn’t immediately available Wednesday.
The case is Vila et al v. Smith, case number 1:16-cv-04038, in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois.