Julia Child Foundation, Oven-Maker In Legal Battle

Is that a Thermador? (AP)
Is that a Thermador? (AP)

A foundation set up by Julia Child is locked in a legal battle with the manufacturer of Thermador ovens for touting the late chef's use of the company's high-end appliances.

The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts claims BSH Home Appliances Corp. is using Child's name and image without permission. The Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer says it is simply making a factual reference to Child's use of its appliances.

BSH filed a lawsuit in Boston against the foundation last week, asking a federal judge to determine the rights of both sides. The foundation countered by filing two lawsuits this week against BHS, one in state court in Santa Barbara, Calif., where the foundation is based, and the other in federal court in Los Angeles. The lawsuits ask for an injunction to stop BHS from using Child's name and seek unspecified monetary damages.

Child, who died in 2004, had a Thermador oven in her Cambridge kitchen, which is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington. She also used Thermador products on the set of her popular television show, "The French Chef."

In its complaint, BSH said the foundation sent the company a letter last month in which it said it has exclusive ownership and control of Child's name, image, likeness and celebrity identity, as well as trademarks and copyrights related to her. BSH said the foundation alleged that BSH's use of Child's name and image constitutes copyright infringement, trademark infringement and "a post-mortem violation of Julia Child's right of publicity."

The foundation demanded that BSH stop using the name, image and "all other indicia of Julia Child's personality," according to the complaint filed by BSH.

BSH acknowledges that it has used images of Child and references to her use of Thermador products on its website and on social media sites, but its attorneys wrote in the complaint that "those uses do not state or imply any endorsement by Ms. Child."

The company said its references to Child "reflect on the long history, significance and influence of Thermador products on American society and culture, and Ms. Child's documented and well-known use of those products."

In its lawsuits, the foundation said Child, who rose to prominence in the 1960s through her books and TV appearances, had many endorsement opportunities during her lengthy career but chose to forego them.

"Instead, she focused her career on public education, and allowed her show to be broadcast on PBS, a nonprofit television network, for its entire 10-year run," the state lawsuit said.

The foundation said BHS has featured Child's name and photo prominently in advertising, marketing and promotional materials, including on the homepage of the Thermador website, creating the appearance the Child had been its spokeswoman during her career.

This program aired on August 29, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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