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Californians can proceed with lawsuit against Facebook over ads “liked” by friends

Plaintiffs allege that the use of their names and pictures is illegal

I always knew my roommate didn’t really “like” Vitamin Water on Facebook. But I never thought to turn that into a lawsuit, like some enterprising Californians have.

A group of California plaintiffs claim that Facebook’s use of their friends’ likenesses to promote products and services on the social network violates California’s Right of Publicity Statute. A district court judge ruled on Friday that they can continue pursuing the suit.

These sort of targeted advertisements will make up 90 percent of Facebook’s revenue in 2011, according to research company EMarketer Inc., including sponsored stories, which use the name and profile picture of a person’s friend and claim that they like the advertiser. A “trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising,” the plaintiffs quoted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as saying in a statement. They alleged that the use of their names and likenesses is unauthorized and therefore prohibited under California law, Bloomberg reports.

Facebook countered, claiming the non-consensual use was protected under the law’s “newsworthiness” exemption because a person’s friends are public figures to them and consumer opinions are newsworthy. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh wrote that the plaintiffs’ claim “articulated a coherent theory of how they were economically injured by the misappropriation of their names, photographs and likeness,” and rejected Facebook’s bid to dismiss the case.

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