Bethenny Frankel, the former Real Housewives of New York star, is suing TikTok over her alleged use of her image and likeness in ads that appear to promote counterfeit goods.
According to documents reviewed by NBC News, Frankel, a prominent online influencer, is suing the social media platform in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly allowing the unauthorized use of her image.
It came to my attention that TikTok was disseminating videos using my proprietary content without my consent to sell merchandise with no affiliation, Frankel said in a statement. I discovered that this is a widespread issue that affects creators of all sizes across the space. It is unacceptable and I want to be a voice for change, and I want to use my platform to create a shift in the industry. The suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges the unauthorized use of an old video by Frankel to promote a counterfeit designer cardigan. The lawsuit claims that the footage was taken from a previous video of Frankel talking about a separate cardigan and that it was doctored so that she appeared to promote a knockoff.
Frankel, who has 2.8 million Instagram followers and nearly 1 million TikTok followers, was notified of the allegedly stolen content in September, according to a press release from Frankel's legal representatives. Many of her followers expressed disappointment that Frankel appeared to have sold out and was hawking cheap counterfeits, according to the statement.
The court documents state that Frankel posted about the allegedly stolen content with the intent to inform consumers of the deception, but TikTok flagged her post as abusive and removed the video.
The lawsuit accuses TikTok of allowing unauthorized third parties to use their image and content to cause irreparable harm to Frankel and other class-action plaintiffs.
Ashley Nash-Hahn, a TikTok spokesman, said in a statement to The Washington Post that they had first reported the news that they had strict policies to protect people's hard earned intellectual property and keep misleading content off of TikTok. We constantly review and improve our policies and processes in order to combat increasingly sophisticated fraud attempts and strengthen our systems. Nash-Hahn told The Washington Post that TikTok offers several portals on its website where users can flag content that is in violation of the platform's guidelines. She told the publication that nearly a fifth of videos that draw complaints don't get removed.
She told the Post that users can report content in the app, and they can escalate concerns about copyright or trademark infringement via our website. Advertising content passes through multiple levels of verification before getting approval, and we have measures in place to detect and remove fraudulent or violative ads. In an Instagram post on Thursday, Frankel encouraged others who have experienced similar violations of their rights to reach out to her legal team.
Consumers and creators are being exploited with no recourse or power to defend and protect themselves, Frankel wrote. Social media, and its impact as the most powerful medium on the planet, can't be a reckless marketplace where people risk their rights and privacy without protection.