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Samsung Electronics is facing a lawsuit from Pelé seeking $30 million in compensation, after the football legend claimed the electronics group used a lookalike to promote its televisions last year.
The former Brazil footballer filed the lawsuit against Samsung in Chicago earlier this month, claiming that the South Korean group used his identity in a full-page advert for ultra-high-definition TVs that appeared in the New York Times last October.
The advertisement did not mention Pelé by name but featured a large portrait photograph of an elderly black man who "very closely resembles" him, in addition to a smaller picture of a white soccer player performing a "modified bicycle of scissors-kick, perfected and famously used by Pelé", the complaint said.
The advert will confuse consumers and hurt the value of Pelé's endorsement rights, the complaint added. The 75-year-old, who is considered among the world's greatest footballers, relies on endorsements for much of his income. He has deals with companies including Volkswagen, Subway, Emirates and Procter & Gamble.
Pelé earned $25 million from endorsements in 2014, when Brazil hosted the football World Cup, according to Bloomberg Business. His value is likely to rise further this year with the Olympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro.
"The goal is to obtain fair compensation for the authorised use of Pelé's identity and to prevent future unauthorised uses," attorney Frederick Sperling said on behalf of Pelé.
Mr Sperling represented basketball player Michael Jordan in a similar case in 2015. Last August he helped Mr Jordan win an $8.9 million jury verdict against the former supermarket chain Dominick's for unauthorised use of his identity in an advert in Sports Illustrated.
According to the complaint Samsung held talks with Pelé in 2013 about hiring the football star to endorse its products, but pulled out of negotiations at the last minute and "never obtained the right to use Pelé's identity in any manner or in any format".
It is unclear how much Pelé could receive in damages as Samsung's advert was less explicit than Dominick's, which used Mr Jordan's full name and jersey number.
Samsung said it was examining the complaint through its US subsidiary.
"The company is sacrificing big things like its global image for small financial gains," said Chung Sun-seop, editor of Chaebul.com, a website that analyses South Korean conglomerates.
Separately, Samsung is seeking to reduce the $548 million in damages it agreed to pay Apple for copying its US rival's smartphone design and technology. The US Supreme Court is to take up the case.
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