By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A charitable foundation representing the legacy of renowned U.S. television chef Julia Child has sued Airbnb, saying the short-term rental company used her name without permission to promote a stay in France at her former vacation cottage in Provence.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday in the California Superior Court in Santa Barbara County, the nonprofit Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts objected to Airbnb's contest last month for a free night at the cottage, La Pitchoune.
The case is one of many seeking to curb the unauthorized use of celebrities' names and likenesses for commercial purposes. Airbnb lets people list and book rental properties online and through mobile devices in more than 34,000 cities worldwide.
According to the complaint, Airbnb promoted its contest on its website, on social media and in emails, touting how entrants could imagine living in "Julia Child's former home," and "channeling the culinary genius of Julia Child" while "combing over the knick knacks in her kitchen exactly as she left them."
But the foundation said Airbnb did this after being told it could not use Child's name or likeness, consistent with her policy of not doing endorsements prior to her death in 2004 at age 91.
The complaint also said Child and her husband Paul stayed in but never owned the cottage, and that Julia Child removed her kitchen tools after returning the keys to the owner in 1992.
The lawsuit accused San Francisco-based Airbnb of violating a California state law against misappropriating a person's right of publicity.
It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction to stop further use of Child's name and likeness.
Airbnb on Wednesday said it cannot discuss pending litigation.
Its online description of La Pitchoune on Wednesday called the property a "Foodie Paradise," and "the former home of Paul and Julia Child." (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10698076)
Julia Child hosted "The French Chef" and other TV series, where she concluded episodes with an enthusiastic "Bon Appetit!", and wrote or co-wrote many cookbooks including the classic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
She donated the kitchen of her Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was reassembled at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The case is Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts v Airbnb Inc et al, California Superior Court, Santa Barbara County, No. 16CV02626.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby)