Scarlett Johansson Sues Publisher for Using Her Name in a Novel -- Has Celebrity Branding Gone Too Far?

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Scarlett Johansson Sues Publisher for Using Her Name in a Novel -- Has Celebrity Branding Gone Too Far?
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Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson was not joking when she sued a publisher for allowing her name to be used in a French novel.

The 28-year-old actress, who was a presenter at last night's Tony Awards, objected to the use of her persona in "The First Thing We Look At." A portion of the novel includes the story of a mechanic who mistakenly believes a stranger he helps out is the former GQ Babe of the Year. He learns later in the book that she is just someone who resembles her.

Despite the fact that only her name was used and the character was not in fact Johansson, the former wife of Ryan Reynolds sued publisher JC Lattès for "breach and fraudulent use of personal rights."

Really? This from a woman who once starred in a movie called "My Brother the Pig"?

It's not as if Johansson is a product like JELL-O or Apple Jacks. Or is it?

Like packaged foods, celebrities' names are brands whose value can go up or down depending on how their image is enhanced or damaged. Celebrities like to retain the power to control their reputation thermostat by deciding which movies to appear in, which products to endorse and, in some cases, even whether to reveal they are gay or belong to a certain religion.

Regardless of how the-character-who-turned-out-not-to-be-Scarlett-Johansson was depicted in the novel, the "Lost in Translation" star did not have control over how her image was projected. For about 60 pages, the protagonist refers to the character using the actress's name, as in "Scarlett Johansson bought flowers," before he learns she is just a doppelgänger.

The book's author, Gregoire Delacourt, seemed disappointed by Johansson's litigious response. He told a French radio station, "It's a bit silly to say that if you talk about a person, the courts have to get involved. That's quite sad."

Some personal branding experts would disagree. High-paid consultants advise celebrities on how to increase and maintain the value of their brand. For instance, the Celebrity Branding Agency holds Lady Gaga up as an example of a star who exemplifies living her brand. "Lady Gaga stays in character virtually all of the time. She doesn't present herself as a performer who dresses up in goofy costumes from time to time, she instead portrays herself as a unique and creative artist who lives her entire life outside the box," states an article on the company's website.

Kim Kardashian may have been trying to protect her celebrity brand when she sued Old Navy two years ago for using an alleged look-alike in its 2011 "Super C-U-T-E" commercial. She claimed her fans might think the model, Melissa Molinaro, was really her and assume she endorsed Old Navy clothing. More likely, she feared if companies could get away with hiring fake Kardashians, they would no longer pay big bucks for the real deal.

What do you think? Should celebrities be so concerned about their personal brand or just relax and enjoy being rich and famous?

More From This Contributor:

Scarlett Johansson Dating a Non-Celebrity and Other Celeb-Commoner Couples

Sears Gets Saucy with Topless Kardashian Ad

How Old Navy's Attempt to Torpedo Kim Kardashian Could Backfire

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