Bad Behavior

Two months ago, in July, we wrote about a group of influencers who had been called out for racist comments or actions. Bad behavior on the part of influencers has continued and even intensified since then, as a number of social media celebrities around the world have been arrested or investigated by the authorities in the past two months:

  • Jake Paul was charged with trespassing and unlawful assembly for his filming of looting at a mall in Arizona during the George Floyd protests. Those charges were then dropped so a federal investigation could go forward, resulting in an FBI search of his home, in which authorities were seen removing firearms. Paul, who has 20 million-plus followers, launched a licensing program in 2018; his licensees have ranged from Just Funky and Bioworld to Sprayground and Just Toys. He has been involved in other controversies over the years, including recently hosting a big house party in violation of pandemic distancing rules.
  • Alan and Alex Stokes were arrested and charged with a felony (false imprisonment effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit) and a misdemeanor (falsely reporting an emergency) for organizing and filming a prank involving two fake bank robberies that police say put the public at risk. They could receive up to four years in prison if convicted. The twin brothers, who had 4.8 million followers at the time of the arrest, have branded merchandise available across a variety of print-on-demand platforms.
  • Dubai-based Raymond Abbas (Hushpuppi), a luxury lifestyle influencer, was extradited to Chicago to face charges for allegedly leading a $350 million worldwide cyber scam that included money laundering and phishing, among other crimes. He was not heavily involved in licensing but featured luxury brands’ merchandise on his channels through paid endorsement agreements.
  • Mika Salamanca, a U.S.-based influencer who has more than 5 million followers across platforms, with her fans mostly based in the Philippines, was arrested and pled guilty to violating Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine after she entered the state and posted content of herself out in public. She has occasionally endorsed health and beauty products on her social channels.

The licensing and other commercial activities of these influencers—and a growing list of others who have been charged or investigated for serious crimes—vary widely. Some have little to none, while Jake Paul has had a number of licensees and once appeared on Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube stars.

Controversial activities and content do not necessarily have a long-term impact on licensing efforts, especially when part of the celebrities’ appeal is their willingness to go to the edge of too far with their pranks or humor. That said, when the police and FBI start getting involved, these activities can give tie-in partners pause. That fact, combined with a very competitive market for celebrity licensing (and influencer licensing in particular), is likely to have an impact on brands’ decision-making process when it comes to licensing deals, collaborations, or endorsements with celebrities who seem at risk of bad behavior.

We have posted a new monthly update to our Coronavirus Resource Page, along with some recent COVID-connected writings that have appeared elsewhere. If you are looking for a one-stop shop for information on pandemic-related licensing trends, check back periodically, as we post new insights on a regular basis.

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