March 30, 2012 / 6:23 PM / in 6 years

Actress sues over vodka ad that sparked backlash

(Reuters) - The maker of Belvedere Vodka has been sued by an actress who said her likeness was used without permission in a print advertisement that she said appeared to glorify a possible rape.

The ad, briefly posted on Belvedere’s Facebook and Twitter pages on March 23 before the company took it down and issued an apology, prompted a backlash in online and other media.

It depicts a frightened-looking woman appearing to try to escape from the arms of a smiling man. The tagline reads: “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.”

In her lawsuit filed Thursday, plaintiff Alicyn Packard accused Moet Hennessy USA Inc, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, of negligent infliction of emotional distress and misappropriating her likeness.

“While defendants have apologized to nearly everyone else, and admitted the offensiveness of the advertisement, they have yet to apologize to plaintiff,” who has become “the face of the Belvedere advertising campaign that jokes about rape,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit, filed in a California state court in Los Angeles, seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Moet Hennessy did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment. Jeffrey Gersh, a lawyer for Packard, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the complaint, the photo of Packard was a screenshot from a video from Strickly Viral Productions.

In that video, she and the man -- her friend and Strickly Viral owner Chris Strickland -- are asked by her parents to recreate a pose from a photo taken when they were young.

In its apology posted on its website, Belvedere called the ad “offensive” and “completely inappropriate,” and said it pulled the ad the day it was posted.

Belvedere Vodka has more than 936,000 Facebook fans and more than 10,300 Twitter followers.

The case is Packard v. Moet Hennessy USA Inc et al, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, No. BC481858.

Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Martha Graybow and Gerald E. McCormick

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