Playboy Enterprises Inc. is due in court Tuesday to press criminal charges against the owner of Voici, a French women's weekly that printed miniatures of Playboy pages featuring the actresses Daryl Hannah and Shannen Doherty.
Voici publisher Prisma Presse and its chief executive, Axel Ganz, have been summoned to the preliminary hearing to face accusations of "counterfeiting by publication or reproduction," a court official said.
Prisma's legal director, Martine Berard Mirepoix, said Playboy had also filed for $490,000 in damages after Voici used the images in its press review.
In its Oct. 6 issue, Voici ran page reproductions measuring 3-by-2 inches from a Playboy photo shoot with Hannah, 43, whose film credits range from 1980s sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" to "Kill Bill," the latest blood-drenched film from Quentin Tarantino.
Entitled "Hannah from Heaven," the Playboy series shows the smiling actress in a variety of poses, sporting a pair of pink roller boots and very little else.
The following month, when Playboy's American edition published photos of Shannen Doherty — best known for U.S. TV roles in "Charmed" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" — Voici once again carried scaled-down highlights.
Anna Cashman, in-house lawyer for Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc., said the company had nothing to say publicly about its legal action. Agents for Hannah and Doherty did not return calls.
But staff at German-owned Prisma — whose 19 titles include the French edition of National Geographic — said they were baffled by Playboy's reaction to what they see as free publicity for the half century-old adult magazine.
"They felt we'd damaged their business and that because we'd shown their photos, people wouldn't buy their magazine afterward," Voici editor Hedi Dahmani told The Associated Press by telephone.
"But if I were a young man and I noticed in the press review that Daryl Hannah was appearing naked in Playboy this month, I'd want to go buy it."
Hannah's and Doherty's photo shoots featured in Voici before they had appeared in Playboy's French magazine, which often publishes pictures weeks after the U.S. edition.
French law takes a tough stance on intellectual property, and breaking copyright can be a criminal offense, allowing rights holders to choose between the civil and penal system to seek redress.
Besides potentially hefty damages for Prisma, CEO Ganz risks a criminal record if convicted on the charges brought by Playboy, and even up to two years behind bars — although lawyers say prison sentences are extremely rare in this kind of case.
Prisma argues that using images from other publications in press reviews is common practice among newspapers and magazines — including Playboy — and points out that 70 percent of Voici's 3.9 million readers are women.
"It's hardly as if we have the same audience," Dahmani said.
As for the other 30 percent, the Voici editor insists his small Playboy vignettes are no substitute for the real thing.
"You really have to look closely to see anything at all," he explained.
By Laurence Frost