Chuck Yeager wins lawsuit against AT&T
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After a five-year legal battle, a Sacramento federal jury determined Gen. Chuck Yeager has the "rights" stuff.
Jurors last Friday awarded Yeager $135,000 in damages, drawing the history-making pilot's legal battle against AT&T to a close.
Yeager sued the company in November 2007 for misappropriating his name in a May 2006 press release.
Cingular Wireless actually put out the release - AT&T bought the company in 2007 - to promote its "mobile access command headquarters," an emergency preparedness system dubbed "MACH."
The Lincoln County native is mentioned only once in the 755-word release, in a quote attributed to Ralph de la Vega, then Cingular's chief operating officer:
"Nearly 60 years ago, the legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and achieved Mach 1. Today Cingular is breaking another kind of barrier with our MACH 1 and MACH 2 mobile command centers, which will enable us to respond rapidly to hurricanes and minimize their impact on our customers."
According to court documents, Mark Siegel, AT&T Mobility's executive director of media relations, said he used Yeager's name "to create positive associations in people's mind with the AT&T brand so they would think highly of the company."
Yeager's lawyers, meanwhile, contended AT&T had used the general's name to capitalize on his reputation and achievements.
California law allows individuals the right to control the commercial use of their identities. AT&T argued the press release was "noncommercial speech" and therefore protected by the First Amendment.
The case went to trial June 4 after years of legal wrangling. Four days later, jurors sided with Yeager.
AT&T would not comment on the outcome.
It's not the first time Yeager has sued companies for using his name without permission.
In September 2009, he sued microprocessor manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices, better known as AMD, for a 2000 press release that referenced his most famous flight.
The press release was published when the company released its one-gigahertz processor.
"Just as the achievement of Chuck Yeager signaled the beginning of a new era in aviation, the 1GHz processor ushers in a new era of information technology," the release read.
AMD also name-dropped other famous adventurers, including moonwalker Neil Armstrong, four-minute-mile runner Roger Bannister and Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mt. Everest.
"This sales effort focused primarily upon a subliminal suggestion of endorsement by General Yeager and an implied connection between General Yeager's personal accomplishments and AMD's new product," Yeager's lawsuit alleged.
In December 2009 Yeager filed suit against Virgin Airlines.
The airline used Yeager's name in a cheeky email touting its new wireless Internet service on flights:
"Not unlike Buzz Aldrin or Chuck Yeager, you have the opportunity to be a part of a monumental moment in air travel. The communication highway now has wings with in-flight Wi-Fi at every seat on every Virgin America flight."
The lawsuit said Yeager "rarely, if ever" permits private aviation companies to use his name "because that is the industry in which General Yeager has spent his entire 65-year career and has achieved so many accomplishments.
"If he were to agree to permit the requested use, he would require a payment commensurate with the value of his publicity rights in that industry - a substantial sum," the lawsuit said.
It's unclear whether Yeager is still pursuing his suits against Virgin and AMD.
Messages left at Yeager's California home were not immediately returned Tuesday evening. An email to his wife, Victoria, also was unanswered.