Julia Child Foundation sues Airbnb over promotion of French vacation home

The charitable foundation representing the estate of famed chef Julia Child said it has sued Airbnb because the short-term rental company used Child’s name and likeness for a Memorial Day promotion without the foundation’s permission.

The lawsuit focuses on a recent Airbnb promotion to give away a free night for two Airbnb guests at Child’s occasional vacation home in Provence, France. Airbnb doesn’t mention Child by name in the online description of the property, but hints that guests can “almost hear her summoning you into the kitchen, where everything is as she left it.”

Airbnb’s description of the home also includes famous quotes about cooking from Child.

An email blast sent out by Airbnb’s marketing firm about the giveaway contest in May is more direct, saying: “Airbnb is giving away a free night at the former home of Julia Child in Provence, France.” The email sent to Airbnb followers goes on to say that guests could comb through “the knickknacks in her kitchen exactly as she left them.”

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An Airbnb spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Although the property in France was indeed a vacation home for Child, Airbnb cannot use that fact as a defense, said Jeffrey Abrams, an attorney for the foundation.

“They have used her name for commercial purposes in order to endorse Airbnb without the foundation’s permission,” he said. “There is no defense.” 

According to a copy of the suit provided to the Los Angeles Times, Airbnb contacted the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts in April seeking permission to use her name and likeness for the promotion. Even after the foundation denied the request, the suit says Airbnb launched the promotion anyway.

Child had a long-standing policy of refusing to endorse cooking products or let others use her name for promotions or advertising, said Todd Schulkin, executive director of the foundation.

The lawsuit also says that Airbnb erroneously described the property in France as a “former home” of Child and suggested the kitchen remained in the same condition in which she left it during her last visit in 1992.

Child and her husband occasionally rented the property but never owned it, the suit said, and she removed all her cooking equipment, books and pictures on her last visit.

Child’s kitchen appliances, cabinets and most of the contents from her home in Massachusetts have been reassembled at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The suit asks for damages, any profits made from the promotion as well as legal fees.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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