Paris not laughing at 'vacant' Kiwi billboards

BY LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 09:35 08/11/2009
Paris Hilton billboard
MICHAEL BRADLEY/Sunday Star Times

PRETTY VACANT: Socialite Paris Hilton isn't happy with how her image is being used.

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Paris Hilton is not amused. The American hotel heiress is upset a photo of her is being used to advertise vacant billboard space in Auckland.

The photo, which shows Hilton partying, has the word "vacant" written in giant-sized lettering across it.

Hilton's Los Angeles-based manager Jamie Freed said Wellington billboard company, Media5, had no permission to use Hilton's image, and they could expect to hear from Hilton's lawyers.

Earlier this year film director Woody Allen received $US5 million in damages for the unauthorised use of his image in a billboard advertising campaign for clothing giant American Apparel.

Allen objected to the use of his picture in the Los Angeles-based company's billboards, which showed him dressed in Hasidic Jewish clothing above the American Apparel logo and the words "the holy rebbe" in Yiddish.

American Apparel is the United States' biggest T-shirt manufacturer. Since last year it has been owned by New Zealand millionaire Eric Watson's firm Endeavour Corp.

Allen initially demanded $US10m in damages for the use of his image in breach of his longstanding refusal to endorse commercial interests, but settled with the company out of court in a bid to avoid a potentially embarrassing trial that had been expected to last up to a month.

Adam McGregor from Media5 told the Sunday Star-Times the company, which had grown from having 35 to 70 advertising sites in Wellington and Auckland, was not using Hilton to endorse their billboards. They were "just having a bit of fun".

"We wanted to draw some attention to some of our unsold display as we expanded, so we briefed a friend who runs his own boutique agency to work up a range of creative concepts. We liked the ones he came up with using high-profile public figures the best because they were fun.

"We were thinking about using Winston Peters, but Paris is much prettier and she has a proven ability to laugh at herself. We assume that the agency has taken care of the rights to the image of Paris, but we will ask the question," McGregor said.

If Hilton's lawyers asked for her image to be removed from the billboard, the company would probably oblige. "We're not trying to offend anyone."

lois.cairns@star-times.co.nz

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