Chipotle sued for $2.2 billion over using photo without permission

The burrito chain is under fire after a California consumer’s lawsuit alleges that the company used her likeness in marketing materials, though she didn’t sign a photographer’s release.

"Chipotle" by Mike Mozart via / CC BY 2.0

Chipotle is facing a $2.2 billion lawsuit—its earnings over the last nine years—after a California woman noticed a photo of herself hanging in one of the chain’s Orlando locations.

The woman claims she did not give permission for the fast-food chain to use her likeness when a photographer snapped her pic at a Denver location 10 years ago.

Leah Caldwell says she refused to sign the photographer’s release, but that didn’t stop Chipotle from slapping her picture up in several of its burrito dens.

Further, Caldwell alleges that the company doctored the image to give her hair more texture. Someone, she says, also put some beer bottles in the foreground. In the lawsuit, she claims that choice cast a “false light upon her character associated with consuming alcoholic beverages.”

The logic behind the whopping sum she’s seeking? The company obviously used her photo to make a profit, so she should be entitled to said profits—all $2.2 billion that it made between 2006 and 2015.

Though you might think the lawsuit is extreme, PR and marketing pros would do wise to heed a lesson from this: Always source the images you use (and realize the risks you take if you don’t know from where one comes).

What do you think, Ragan readers? Does Caldwell deserve the whole burrito, or should she feel lucky if she even gets guacamole out of the deal?


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