McElhaney has filed a lawsuit alleging his identity was stolen by an out-of-state law firm, Hughes & Coleman, in an unauthorized Google internet ploy designed to steal his business prospects. According to the court papers, Hughes and Coleman recognized the unique brand of law publicized and practiced by the “Rocky” brand so the law firm intentionally, unethically, illegally and unfairly set in motion an internet marketing campaign based on stealing the identity and popularity of McElhaney for their own profit. —
Last Thursday, Chancellor C.K. Smith granted McElhaney a restraining order, requiring Hughes & Coleman to cease using McElhaney’s name.
The lawsuit explains that Hughes & Coleman placed bids with Google so that when an individual searched “Rocky McElhaney Law Firm” on a mobile device, the popular search engine would display a banner with McElhaney’s firm name at the very top of the search results. This ad for McElhaney’s firm was linked to a Hughes & Coleman website landing page and included a phone number that rings at Hughes & Coleman’s offices. The suit alleges that because the ad is misleading it violates rules of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, a watch dog group for attorneys, and violates McElhaney’s right of publicity to his name.
A screen shot picture of the advertisement, which has been running since February according to McElhaney’s suit, was included in the court documents.
Nashville-based Cynthia Sherwood, lead attorney for McElhaney in the case, said, “Rocky has created a name unparalleled in personal injury law in Middle Tennessee, so Hughes & Coleman’s trading on his name is all the more egregious.”
Smith’s order stated that “(Hughes & Coleman) be, and are hereby, temporarily/restrained enjoined from continuing to violate (McElhaney’s) common law right of publicity and statutory protections under the Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act. Specifically, Defendants are ordered to cease and desist running the Google ad at issue in this lawsuit which attaches its website and phone number to (McElhaney’s) name and business in violation of the Tenn. Code Ann 47-25-1101.”
Sherwood stated that by Friday morning, after the restraining order was issued, the Google ads at issue were no longer being displayed. “The immediate removal of the unlawful ad confirms for us that Hughes & Coleman had complete control of its creation,” Sherwood said. The parties are due back in Court on June 26 for Hughes & Coleman to show cause why the judge should not impound the website and phone numbers, according to the court order.
Lebanon attorney Keith Williams, who also represents McElhaney in the case, called the actions of Hughes & Coleman “deceptive” and explained about the case, “Rocky’s name and brand are valuable in the legal marketplace and no one can commercially exploit that without his permission. It is like the cases that happened when folks tried to use the name Elvis after he died.” The law that protects individual’s rights to their name and likeness is called the Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act. The law provides that “every individual has a property right in the use of that person's name, photograph, or likeness in any medium in any manner.”
Internet marketing expert Mike Edwards, with Nashville-based Digital Law Marketing said, “There is really no way that these ads show up like this on Google without Hughes & Coleman intentionally causing it to happen by bidding on the words and creating the ad. I do not see how this was a mistake.”
Rocky McElhaney has become a household name in Tennessee since he started marketing his firm in 2009 and running television advertising in 2013. McElhaney’s television ads are unique, highly personal and stand out in a crowded marketplace. A key aspect of the marketing of his law firm is placing digital ads on the internet to help clients find his website and phone number. According to the lawsuit, his law firm’s market presence and position has continued to increase, revenues have skyrocketed and the reputation of the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm has dramatically increased across the region.
The lawsuit seeks $2.5 million dollars in compensation and other damages. McElhaney also seeks forfeiture of Hughes & Coleman’s website and phone numbers used in what the lawsuit dubs “unfair competition and unethical deceit.”
Rocky McElhaney TV Ad: Simple Pleasures
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Release ID: 207940