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Kun je celebrities aanklagen omdat ze reclame maken?

Celebrities die aangeklaagd worden voor crypto reclame. In Amerika gebeurt het. Kan dat ook in Nederland?

Op social media prijzen sterren regelmatig een cryptomunt aan. Iedereen mag zich crypto-expert noemen, maar om financieel advies te mogen geven moet je een vergunning hebben. Ook reclame maken mag niet zomaar.  In oktober 2022 kreeg Kim Kardashian een boete van 1,26 miljoen euro van de Amerikaanse waakhond SEC omdat zij reclame maakte voor een cryptomunt. Dit was omdat zij niet aangaf dat ze betaald werd voor haar post.

Op dit moment loopt er een rechtszaak tegen diverse bekende Amerikanen die reclame maakten voor het failliete FTX. In het rijtje namen staan bijvoorbeeld tennisster Naomi Osaka, basketballer Stephen Curry van de Golden State Warriors, Seinfeld acteur Lawrence Gene David, topmodel Gisele Bündchen en haar ex, oud-footballspeler Tom Brady. Volgens dit artikel hebben zelf ook veel geld verloren.

FTX was een van de grootste cryptoplatformen ter wereld maar is in november 2022 failliet is gegaan. De topman Sam Bankman-Friet Bankman-Fried wordt verdacht van fraude, samenzwering en het witwassen van geld en is in december opgepakt. Amerikanen die hun geld kwijt zijn geraakt door het faillissement van FTX stellen de celebrities nu persoonlijk aansprakelijk. Ze hebben consumenten aangezet om niet-gecertificeerde beleggingen van de beurs te kopen. Volgens de aanklagers werden beleggers zonder het zelf te weten in een piramidefraude geloodst. Piramidefraude is een methode om mensen op te lichten door bijvoorbeeld een belegging aan te bieden waarbij de uitbetaalde gelden worden gefinancierd uit de inleg van nieuwe klanten.

Hoe dat aanklagen in Amerika werkt, hebben we gevraagd aan advocaat Jeff Almeida. Hij is principal van Grant & Eisenhofer. Dit Amerikaanse advocatenkantoor heeft uitvoerig de FTX zaak bestudeerd.

31 mei 2023

Why isn’t this possible to sue the cryptopromotors in Holland?

Why is it a fraud when a person of fame promotes a brand like FTX in America? And not when they are doing this for example for Coca-Cola? Why isn’t this possible to sue the cryptopromotors in Holland?

There are two things at play here, one is certainly legal (and the substance and operation of U.S. laws) but the other is more practical (and perhaps more reflective of a litigious atmosphere here in America).

On the practical side, FTX is bankrupt and therefore not a source for recovery of lost funds by consumers.  Had FTX not been bankrupt, it is very unlikely that these celebrity endorsers or “social media influencers” would be named as defendants, with legal claims brought against them.  So unlike Coke, and a hypothetical false or misleading advertisement by Coke endorsed by a celebrity, no attorney would really sue the endorsers personally… they’d look directly to Coke. The FTX case therefore involves a bit of a search for deep-pocketed, viable and liquid targets for recovery.  Because the U.S. is not a “loser pays” jurisdiction, where all litigants are responsible for their own legal fees, there is low to no risk for plaintiffs testing out these claims.

On the legal side, the claims against celebrity endorsers are viewed as a bit of a longshot, but U.S. law has two potential avenues of recovery:  individual State consumer protection laws (that apply to consumers in the States of say… California, New York or Florida…every U.S. state has such laws, and they have slight differences); and U.S. federal law, which applies across all of the U.S. With both sets of claims here, the plaintiffs assert that the celebrities, in lending their credibility to the failed cryptocurrency exchange, were at least partly responsible for deceiving consumers to utilize FTX, causing damages.  The primary and best claim that plaintiffs have brought is under a rather strict Florida consumer protection law that bans “unconscionable, deceptive, or unfair acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.”  Sort of vague wording, that may encompass lots of different conduct.  The plaintiffs allege that these celebrities violated Florida consumer-protection laws by (1) failing to provide specific information on their financial arrangement with FTX, and (2) not undergoing requisite due diligence before promoting the company.  Notably, no one is really alleging that celebrity endorsers had “actual knowledge” that FTX was a Ponzi scheme or had actual knowledge of any misconduct. Whether it is enough to prove a claim under the Florida statute (in other words, a sort of “reckless deception” by failing to do due diligence and accepting a lot of money to do a promotion) is a bit of an open question under such a vaguely worded statute.  We think it is unlikely to be successful unless additional facts are developed showing at least “some” knowledge of wrongdoing.

On the U.S. federal law side of things, there are essentially two primary federal agencies that regulate in the false advertising space – the SEC, if the matter involves securities, and the Federal Trade Commission, which is generally responsible for regulating false advertising and deceptive trade practices. FTC regulations make it clear that a celebrity endorser can be held liable for making false statements during the course of an endorsement.  However, in order to hold the celebrity endorser liable, he or she would probably need to have knowledge of the false and misleading statement at the time it is made. The FTC actually provides a helpful example in recent guidance: “The celebrity is subject to liability for his statement about the product. The advertiser is also liable for misrepresentations made through the endorsement.”  But they are silent on knowledge of the falsity, which we think is likely the key aspect of the federal law claim.

Notably, this is not the first time celebrity endorsers have been sued for promoting a cryptocurrency-related product.  Kim Kardashian (and others) were sued for endorsing a cryptocurrency known as EthereumMax (EMAX). However, despite paying some SEC fines (for promoting unregistered securities) and receiving an admonishment, the court ruled on the consumer-oriented claims that Kardashian was not liable. Instead, the court dismissed the case, ruling that investors should “act reasonably before basing their bets on the zeitgeist of the moment.”

There is not much other case law on celebrity endorser liability beyond this, and so the FTX case is likely to make some new legal precedent on the subject.

So what will happen with respect to celebrity endorser liability here in FTX:  We generally predict that participating celebrities will need to have actual knowledge of any material misrepresentations made in their endorsements – which is something we doubt very much. It certainly would be strange for Tom Brady or Shaquille O’Neal to have intimate knowledge of FTX, let alone to have known that Sam Bankman-Fried was commingling funds or running a Ponzi scheme with Alameda’s stake in FTX-issued FTT tokens, right?  It would be very difficult to believe, let alone prove by a preponderance of the evidence – the standard in a civil action,  Therefore, we doubt that the plaintiffs will be successful here.

 

Meer informatie:

  • Artikel Banken.nl: Cristiano Ronaldo aangeklaagd vanwege Binance-samenwerking (30 november 2023)
  • Artikel Crypto Insiders: FTX debacle ontsteekt oorlog op crypto door toezichthouders (9 juni 2023)
  • Artikel Financieel Dagblad: Hoe honderden beleggers via finfluencers instapten bij het verdwenen Grinta Invest (23 mei 2023)