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American Apparel's Legal Argument: Those Woody Allen Billboards Were Political Statements, Not Ads

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We've heard a lot—a lot—about Woody Allen's $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel, but today representatives of the basics chain told us that we haven't yet heard their side of the story. Allen's suing American Apparel for putting up billboards featuring a picture of him dressed as a rabbi in Annie Hall, arguing that the ads suggest he endorsed the brand. But the signs weren't intended to suggest endorsement, American Apparel now claims—in fact, they weren't ads at all.

The billboards went up during a period in the spring of 2007 when the news was particularly full of bad press about Dov Charney and the sexual harassment lawsuits against him. By putting up those signs, he was making a political statement about public judgment. Passers-by were supposed to understand that Allen had been unfairly tried in the court of public opinion, just like Charney. (AA reps told us that Bill Clinton or Roman Polanski or Eliot Spitzer would have worked just fine, too.)

But the billboards had another level to them: They used an image from a moment in Annie Hall when Annie's midwestern family jumps to false conclusions about Woody Allen's character—he's a Jewish New Yorker, so they think he's a rebbe. If Woody Allen was going to have any reaction to the billboard at all, American Apparel thought, it would be a twinge of recognition. He'd get that it was meant as commentary, not a way to sell leggings.

Obviously, things didn't work out that way. And we can't help but wonder how much of this argument was constructed after the fact, given that most ads (even political ads) don't require so much interpretive thinking about issues of Identity and Judgment and Truth. (Also given that nobody seems to be reacting well to the "But he's a scumbag!" line of defense.) Either way, though, right now this is what AA says they plan to argue in court. We'll see how it goes.
· All Woody Allen lawsuit coverage [Racked]