My Fame, My Income: A Quick Course in the Right of Publicity

September 2006
by Lee Wilson

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Lawyer Lee Wilson has written several books on intellectual-property law, including The Copyright Guide: A Friendly Guide to Protecting and Profiting from Copyrights, and Fair Use, Free Use, and Use By Permission: How to Handle Copyrights in All Media, both published by Allworth Press. She lives and works in Nashville.


Private individuals have privacy rights, and, to a lesser extent, so do celebrities. In most circumstances, however, only celebrities have the right of publicity. That’s because they are generally the only people with the sort of name recognition that makes their identity valuable in the marketplace.

The right of publicity differs from the better-known right of privacy in a basic way. Invasion of privacy involves an assault on someone’s reputation, peace of mind, or dignity, but when you infringe someone’s right of publicity, you infringe a property right—that is, you may be sued because you have infringed someone’s legal right to be the only one who profits from the commercial value of his or her identity. Celebrity endorsements by athletes, models, movie stars, and even politicians can earn large fees for the celebrities; it’s not surprising that they protect the use of their names and images vigilantly.

Right of publicity is a relatively new area of the law and has not been around long enough for all jurisdictions and courts and legal scholars to agree completely on its shape. The right varies widely from one jurisdiction to another. Most states, however, have now recognized the publicity right by court decision or statute, and it is likely to be recognized even more widely just as soon as appeals-court decisions are handed down in appropriate suits, or leg…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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