Models sue Polekatz strip club, say used their images in ads to promote their clubs without permission

By Scott Holland | Nov 2, 2018

Ten models have sued Polekatz, saying the Bridgeview strip club used images of them to advertise its business although the women have never worked for Polekatz or as exotic dancers.

The women filed a defamation complaint Oct. 29 in federal court in Chicago through Casa Law Firm P.C., with offices in Chicago and New York. They say Vonch LLC, which operates Polekatz Chicago Gentlemen’s Club, violated the federal Lanham Act and the Illinois Right of Publicity Act and “is an unapologetic, chronic and habitual infringer.” They also accused the company of negligence, saying it should have had corporate policies in place to prevent the alleged infractions.

The named plaintiffs — Jessica Hinton, Cora Skinner, Dessie Mitcheson, Eva Pepaj, Jesse Golden, Lina Posada, Tiffany Toth Gray, Jaclyn Swedberg and Sarah Stage, all of California, and Sara Underwood, of Oregon — all say that although they are models and have appeared in lingerie or nude, they never gave Polekatz permission to use their images for advertising and further, had they been offered to consent, each “would have promptly and unequivocally declined.”

The models said Polekatz “intentionally pirated the images” in question, depriving each woman of “the ability to protect her image, brand and reputation” through the industry standard “arms-length negotiations over the terms and conditions of usage and remuneration for any modeling images.” By using the images in connection with event advertising, according to the complaint, Polekatz falsely implied the women would be present and involved in the club’s functions.

That Polekatz is a strip club elevates the situation, they said, alleging they are embarrassed with the implied association “much more than merely a misuse in connection with an innocuous brand or event.” The complaint identified Polekatz as “a strip club that engages in the business of entertaining its patrons with alcohol, fully nude dancing and full friction,” while explaining the alleged misuse of their images extends to social media and other online promotions.

The complaint includes detailed professional history of each model, including prominent film and television roles, runway modeling, magazine features and print and broadcast advertising portfolios, along with other appearances that elevated profiles and increased the rates each model could demand. According to the complaint, many of the allegedly pirated images referenced in the allegations remain visible online, “constituting a continuous and ongoing harm.”

Each plaintiff brings individual counts against Polekatz, and all say the unauthorized use of their images damaged their career and earnings potential. In addition to calling on the court to force Polekatz to scrub the images from their advertising and online activities, they are seeking actual or compensatory damages, including compensation for their own lost profits as well as disgorgement of profits Polekatz might have generated through use of improperly obtained artwork.

The women point out they and Polekatz “compete in the entertainment industry, use similar marketing channels and their respective endeavors overlap. They vie for the same dollars from the same demographic consumer group,” an assertion that supports their competitive injury claims.

They also say the IRPA ensures a right of publicity such that a business “may not publish, print, display or publicly use for purposes of trade or for any commercial or advertising purpose the name, portrait, photograph, or other likeness” of anyone without expressed consent. The models say their IRPA claims entitle them to at least $75,000 apiece, plus punitive and exemplary damages.

A jury trial is requested.

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Polekatz Gentleman's Club U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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