Judge gives green light to astronaut versus Bulova court battle

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New York-based watchmaker Bulova has found itself at the centre of a legal battle after a judge ruled that a case lodged against the brand can move forward.

The case, which has been bought by Apollo 15 astronaut David Randolph Scott, challenges the rights of the Bulova and Sterling Jewelers, formerly known as Kay Jewelers,  to use Scott within its branding materials for a timepiece commemorating the mission.

During his third moon walk as part of the Apollo 15 mission, Scott wore a Bulov chronograph, instead of the malfunctioning Omega Speedmaster chronograph the team had each been issued with, which was worn for the first two walks.

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While the timepiece was not an official partnership, the brand re-launched an updated version in 2014, the Special Edition Moon Chronograph, which the astronaut highlighted in the campaign.

Bulova and Kay both included references to Scott in descriptions of the Moon Watch on their own websites, and Bulova’s site features photos of Scott and a video containing audio of Scott’s voice.

In response to the suit, Bulova raised four defences to Scott’s misappropriation claims, arguing that any use was incidental, the use is protected under First Amendment principles as a matter of public interest, it is a piece of transformative work and Scott is not “readily identifiable” and so his likeness has not been used.

While the company provided four defences in order to attempt to prevent the case proceeding, District Judge Nathanael Cousins announced the case should continue.

“While Bulova may legally showcase its legitimate connection to Apollo 15, the court cannot say as a matter of law that defendants’ advertisements do not cross the event horizon into the black hole of misappropriation.

“But whatever connection the original chronograph created between Bulova and Apollo 15 does not automatically make Scott fair game.

“Even viewed in the light most favorable to Scott, this evidence is a parsec away from describing distress that no reasonable person can be expected to endure. Furthermore, there is no evidence to speak of showing that Defendants were intentional or reckless in the emotional harm they allegedly caused to Scott.”

The case will now be presented to a jury that will decide whether the companies improperly used Scott’s image and likeness, and whether the ads imply Scott endorsed the timepiece.

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