Bethenny Frankel, the former “Real Housewives of New York” star, is suing TikTok over the alleged use of her “image and likeness” in ads appearing to promote counterfeit goods.
Frankel, who is a prominent online influencer, is suing the social media platform in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly allowing the unauthorized use of her image, which violates her “right to publicity,” according to documents reviewed by NBC News.
“It came to my attention that TikTok was disseminating videos using my proprietary content without my consent to sell merchandise with which I have no affiliation,” Frankel said in a statement. “I’ve discovered that this is a widespread issue affecting creators of all sizes across the space. It’s unacceptable, and I want to be a voice for change and use my platform to create a shift in the industry.”
It’s unacceptable, and I want to be a voice for change and use my platform to create a shift in the industry."
The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges the unauthorized use of an old video of Frankel to promote a counterfeit designer cardigan. The lawsuit alleges that the footage was taken from a previous video of Frankel discussing 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 ironically flagged her post as "abusive" and removed the video.
The lawsuit accuses TikTok of causing "irreparable harm" to Frankel and other class-action plaintiffs by allowing unauthorized third parties to continue using their image and content.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, in a statement to The Washington Post, which first reported the news, Ashley Nash-Hahn, a TikTok spokesperson, said: “We have strict policies to both protect people’s hard earned intellectual property and keep misleading content off of TikTok. We regularly review and improve our policies and processes in order to combat increasingly sophisticated fraud attempts and further strengthen our systems."
Nash-Hahn told The Washington Post that TikTok offers several portals on its website where users can flag content that violates the platform’s guidelines. However, she told the publication that nearly a fifth of videos that draw complaints don’t get removed.
“Users can report content in the app, and they may escalate concerns related to copyright or trademark infringement via our website,” she told the Post. “Advertising content passes through multiple levels of verification before receiving 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. "That ends now. Social media, and its impact as the most powerful medium on the planet, cannot be a reckless marketplace where people risk their rights and privacy being violated without protection."