California has a law that protects a celebrity’s right to control their publicity. If someone uses another persons name, image, or likeness without their consent, the wrongdoer is liable for actual damages. This usually happens when someone wants to exploit a celebrity’s status to promote their own economic objectives.
Under Civil Code §3344 any person who uses another persons name or likeness without their consent is liable for actual damages caused, or if no actual damages then at least $750.00 plus any profits earned from the unauthorized misappropriation and attorney fees.
If someone takes a photograph of a celebrity like Shirley Jones and places that photograph on t-shirts that they sell for $50 each, in most likelihood Shirley Jones would not have suffered actual damages. An exception would be if somehow Shirley Jones was also selling t-shirts with her photograph and this wrongdoer diverted sales, or if the use of the wrongdoers t-shirts diluted the Shirley Jones brand where economic loss could be proven.
The statute is designed so that Shirley Jones, or any other celebrity whose right to their publicity is misappropriated, does not need to show actual damages. The statute is designed to prevent others from profiting off the name or likeness of a celebrity’s status. A wrongdoer violating this statute is liable for any such profits attributable to that use.
I am involved in two such lawsuits. One is a class action where a company is selling photographs of celebrities and the other while representing a celebrity in an individual lawsuit.