Face law The Boston Globe
Celebrities and legal scholars alike take the right of publicity very seriously. The details of some of the key cases, however, can make it hard to keep a straight face.
In 1983, Johnny Carson won a lawsuit against a Michigan company called Here's Johnny Portable Toilets Inc. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Carson's famed tagline was, in essence, a part of his persona, and that he could therefore withhold it from any use that he found offensive or from which he was not paid a licensing fee.
In 1983, Johnny Carson won a lawsuit against a Michigan company called Here's Johnny Portable Toilets Inc. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Carson's famed tagline was, in essence, a part of his persona, and that he could therefore withhold it from any use that he found offensive or from which he was not paid a licensing fee. (AP Photo)
The singer and songwriter Tom Waits refuses, as a rule, to do commercials. In 1992, he won a right-of-publicity suit against Frito-Lay for a Salsa Rio Doritos commercial featuring a voice strikingly like Waits's, singing a jingle based on his song ``Step Right Up'-a song Waits wrote as a parody of ad jingles. Four years earlier, Bette Midler had won a similar case against the Ford Motor Co.
The singer and songwriter Tom Waits refuses, as a rule, to do commercials. In 1992, he won a right-of-publicity suit against Frito-Lay for a Salsa Rio Doritos commercial featuring a voice strikingly like Waits's, singing a jingle based on his song ``Step Right Up"-a song Waits wrote as a parody of ad jingles. Four years earlier, Bette Midler had won a similar case against the Ford Motor Co. (Jay Blakesberg / Retna)
In 1993, Vanna White sued the electronics giant Samsung over a magazine advertisement featuring a robot in a blond wig and cocktail dress turning letters on a futuristic game show modeled on ``Wheel of Fortune.' In finding in her favor, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, while the robot did not constitute a ``likeness' of White, it nonetheless appropriated her ``identity.'
In 1993, Vanna White sued the electronics giant Samsung over a magazine advertisement featuring a robot in a blond wig and cocktail dress turning letters on a futuristic game show modeled on ``Wheel of Fortune." In finding in her favor, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, while the robot did not constitute a ``likeness" of White, it nonetheless appropriated her ``identity." (AP Photo)
In 2003, a St. Louis jury ordered the creator of the Spawn comic book series to pay the former hockey player Tony Twist $15 million. Twist, a notorious on-ice enforcer during his playing days, had sued over the creation, in Spawn, of a violent Mafia boss character named Antonio ``Tony Twist' Twistelli. The decision denied comic books the sort of First Amendment protections customarily extended to books, movies and other art forms.
In 2003, a St. Louis jury ordered the creator of the Spawn comic book series to pay the former hockey player Tony Twist $15 million. Twist, a notorious on-ice enforcer during his playing days, had sued over the creation, in Spawn, of a violent Mafia boss character named Antonio ``Tony Twist" Twistelli. The decision denied comic books the sort of First Amendment protections customarily extended to books, movies and other art forms. (Reuters Photo)
That same year (a big one for robot-related lawsuits), George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, the actors who portrayed Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin on the TV show ``Cheers,' sued Paramount Pictures for licensing a series of ``Cheers' airport bars featuring a pair of animatronic likenesses of the two characters. Paramount countered that it owned the rights to the show itself. In 2001, the two sides settled, leaving unanswered the question of whether an actor's right of publicity can trump a studio's copyright claims.
That same year (a big one for robot-related lawsuits), George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, the actors who portrayed Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin on the TV show ``Cheers," sued Paramount Pictures for licensing a series of ``Cheers" airport bars featuring a pair of animatronic likenesses of the two characters. Paramount countered that it owned the rights to the show itself. In 2001, the two sides settled, leaving unanswered the question of whether an actor's right of publicity can trump a studio's copyright claims.
Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has twice brought right-of-publicity suits. The first was over an Oldsmobile spot in which Lew Alcindor (Abdul-Jabbar's former name) appeared as the answer to a sports trivia question. In the second, Abdul-Jabbar in 1997 sued the Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar because the latter's adopted Islamic name too closely resembled his. The younger Abdul-Jabbar, in a settlement, agreed to relinquish the commercial rights to the name.
Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has twice brought right-of-publicity suits. The first was over an Oldsmobile spot in which Lew Alcindor (Abdul-Jabbar's former name) appeared as the answer to a sports trivia question. In the second, Abdul-Jabbar in 1997 sued the Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar because the latter's adopted Islamic name too closely resembled his. The younger Abdul-Jabbar, in a settlement, agreed to relinquish the commercial rights to the name. (AP Photo)
By Drake Bennett