By Duncan Mackay

Samsung USOC_app_welcomeApril 28 - A total of 18 Olympians, including nine-time Olympic gold medallist Mark Spitz, are suing worldwide Olympic sponsor Samsung, claiming that the South Korean company's London 2012 Facebook app uses their names and images without permission.

The app works through your Facebook profile to build a "family tree" of Olympians you're connected to.

Samsung claims its database for its Olympic Genome project includes more than 10,000 past and present Olympians and Paralympians.

But the athletes who also include Greg Louganis, the four-time Olympic diving champion, and Janet Evans, another four-time Games champion, have filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles claiming that Samsung is using their names and faces to create the impression they endorse Samsung products, including Galaxy tablets and phones.

Along with Spitz, who won a record seven gold medals at Munich in 1972 to add to the two he claimed at Mexico City in 1968, Evans and Louganis, 13 other swimmers are named, including Amanda Beard, Jessica Hardy, Dara Torres, Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Eric Shanteau, who all hope to compete at London 2012.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the double Olympic heptathlon champion, and Phil Dalhausser, a Beijing 2008 beach vollyeball gold medallist, are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Samsung USOC_app

Samsung is profiting from the app and "denying plaintiffs compensation for the use of their names and images," according to the suit.

"They're using names and images to sell products, and they've admitted in interviews that they're trying to create a more positive image for Samsung," said Richard Foster, the athlete's attorney.

"California law says you can't use anybody's name or image to market a product unless you have their consent."

Foster claims that "these athletes survive on endorsements," and some have deals with Samsung's competitors.

Being associated with the Samsung app creates ongoing problems, he said, because "once you use a celebrity's name or image to sell a product, they're tied to that product category.

"It makes it difficult for them to get an endorsement deal with other companies in that product category."

The suit also accuses Samsung of violating Section 3344 of the California civil code, which makes it a crime to use someone's name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness for commercial purposes without the person's explicit permission.

The athletes claim Samsung did not get their permission.

Samsung claim they are "disappointed by the lawsuit" and that they worked closely with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for more than year in developing the app.

"Athletes have had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the programme and to control their participation," the company said in a statement.

"Samsung will continue to support Team USA and the spirit of the Olympics in our efforts."

Foster claimed that the communication consisted of an e-mail sent to each athlete, informing them of the app and telling them to return an attached letter if they wished to opt out.

He claimed not all of his clients received the e-mail, while others may have deleted it without reading it.

At least "three or four" returned the opt-out letter but were still included, claimed Foster.

"Samsung essentially said, 'If we don't hear from you, you've entered into a contract,'" Foster said.

"Silence is not acceptance of a contract."

But spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the USOC and Samsung began the Olympic Genome Project so Americans could find connections with American athletes and not as a way to commercialise athletes' names.

"We have honoured the requests of the athletes who have filed suit to remove their names, as we offered to do months ago, and of course we will remove any athletes that do not wish to be listed,'' he said.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]