Roundtable: The Right of Publicity in New York, St. John’s University

An Academic Discussion of Policy Choices in
Designing a Publicity/Privacy Rights Regime: Rothman, Buccafusco, & Tushnet
The roundtable is on the proposed changes to NY’s ROP, which are very extensive.
[I didn’t take notes early on, sorry, but Prof. Rothman discussed issues like transferability,
postmortem rights/justifications thereof; Prof. Buccafusco worked through the
statutory text and showed that the exception to the exception to the exception
structure raised lots of questions such as the treatment of biopics]
Bankruptcy: freely transferrable rights can be transferred involuntarily in bankruptcy. OJ Simpson: faced forced
transfer of his IP, including his book, released under a cover that looked like
it said “I Did It” instead of “If I Did It”
Reed v. Town of Gilbert: Supreme Court announced a stringent
rule applying strict scrutiny for content-based distinctions and exceptions:
there has to be a compelling government interest justifying the regulation and any
exceptions also have to meet stringent tests—overbreadth will get the law
struck down, but so will exceptions that indicate that the law isn’t targeting
enough of the issue
Consider a biography of a literary figure that includes a
number of quotes from her writings that qualify as fair use, or that are
licensed by the copyright owner who isn’t the ROP holder—that seems to replicate
her professional activities—there seems to be different treatment for writers,
composers and artists than for other creators or public figures, and that could
generate first amendment problems as well as uncertainties.
Other lessons from recent challenges to new problems largely
generated by the digital age: revenge porn laws—where written broadly, risk
invalidation as overbroad—Anthony Weiner and now apparently a number of other
congresspeople are the usual examples: if you write a law that would prevent a
woman from speaking out about the explicit photo that a congressman sent her,
then your law is overbroad and will probably not survive First Amendment
By contrast, narrow laws directed at unwanted disclosures of
ordinary people’s intimate photos shared in consensual contexts can and should
Publicity rights are different from revenge porn, but the
lesson about being clear about the goals, especially when you go beyond
regulating advertising, is very important
Recent case from the 9th Circuit: while the 9th
Circuit had previously approved very expansive rights of publicity, Hurt Locker
case it reversed course—applying ROP to a movie at all required the ROP to
survive strict scrutiny, which it could not do at least in the circumstance of
the Hurt Locker
Inextricably intertwined
w/the right of publicity
: definition? 
Completely new concept, not borrowed from other doctrines; there is a
related concept for determining what is commercial speech, but in that case
when the First Amendment protected content is inextricably intertwined with
unprotected content, the First Amendment wins, and this provision seems to be
designed to reverse that.
Agree with professor Buccafusco about the questions about
biopics.  Documentary about athlete’s sports
Vagueness and uncertainty concerns—First Amendment doctrine
says that if you can’t readily determine what’s covered, the law will be void for
vagueness.  Here is where a more specific
labor right, similar to the special privacy rights now granted to police
officers in section 50, rather than an exception to the exception might be
better tailored to deal with what seems to be the concern
Another example where a court might find an invalid content
based exception under Reed is the exception for the use of an individual’s
right of publicity for fund- raising purposes by not-for-profit radio and TV
Also raises copyright preemption issues: even if 1A doesn’t
preclude a use, the Copyright Act may do so if it interferes w/rights to reproduce
works that the performers or athletes consented to making—Dryer case in the 8th
Circuit, Maloney in the 9th Circuit, 7th Circuit also—2d
Circuit is unlikely to create a split by allowing a ROP claim to proceed
against a work even if it is subject to the exception to the exception—focusing
on the labor law components of a reanimation claim could be more likely to
avoid preemption
Part 3: A Discussion With Legislative Actors About The Goals
and Means of A8155-A/S5857-A: Sen. Savino, Bergin, Clenahan, & Maggs
Savino: Important to understand how we create
legislation.  W/o lots of input you end
up with bad law.  Fewer members of the
legislature now are lawyers; we rely on counsels/staff to draft laws.  History of ROP in NY started w/a girl who saw
her face on a bag of flour and sought redress. Beginning is an individual who
felt aggrieved and sought redress from her gov’t— “lobbyist” began in NY where
people waiting for legis. would sit in the lobby.  Views this as a labor issue—workers’ rights.  Time to update NY law.  Has heard from SAG-AFTRA and MPAA, but now
hearing from IP lawyers. We don’t want trolls.
Bryan Clenahan: 99 year old law needs to be updated for the
digital age. This is a fluid process w/ more drafts to come.
Robert Bergin: Represents the majority leader, lead sponsor
of bill.  1902 marked first case, and
also introduction of Brownie camera, opened up a new field.  Reanimation/computer generated images reach a
point where changes are needed.  Fairness
to deceased’s estates about benefiting from use v. other people w/no connection.
Amy Maggs: Central staff/drafter.  In the room where the inextricably
intertwined language happened.  [But gets
bonus points for Hamilton reference.]
Scavino: Suggestions for language changes to correct the
deficiencies identified?
Jeremy Sheff: lots of parts of the draft use language with a
history. But salient terms don’t have that pedigree, either not explicitly
defined or not found in statute on the books w/100 years of history.  What is the impetus for including those terms
in the draft?  Is there a way to either
define those terms or create legislative history for interpreting those terms?
Maggs: We know inextricably intertwined is imperfect—that’s
being negotiated among parties.  Partially
meant to deal w/avatars and digital recreations like those in Rogue One.  [But I’d even add talk about why you have proposed
protection for “gestures.”  Why is that
important for those objectives?]
Bergin: What we were looking at is existing law, grafting
onto it. Not trying to undo 100 years of experience.  We’re trying to add postmortem and dealing
w/new tech. Trying to keep purposes of trade.
Maggs: took out the misdemeanor, b/c we were asked to get
rid of that.
Scavino: Actual entities affected—what may appear to be
confusing is language they’ve agreed on to protect their interest; it made
sense to them.   [This isn’t a great justification for First
Amendment purposes.]
Maggs: some of the language was agreed to by all parties.
RT: Rogue One
wouldn’t be purposes of trade in current law. 
If you leave purposes of trade where it is in the current law you are
also clearly trying to cover Rogue One
and thereby creating a serious interpretive issue.  This is why you might want to leave purposes
of trade where it is and create a separate provision targeting avatars if that’s
the specific concern.
SAG-AFTRA and MPAA may understand the language, but if other
people don’t that’s still a problem. First Amendment cases are often brought by
outsiders who aren’t covered, and to design a system in which insiders are
protected and outsiders aren’t is pretty much a problem from the First Amendment
Rothman: leave in place what you have which is working well
in most instances. Rather than complicating it with exceptions to exceptions,
affirmative descriptions of narrow, precise right is a smart approach. Tech
change: technical neutrality is important—need to think about whether current
law actually addresses this. Reanimation is new, but recasting is not.  There’s a lawsuit about Back to the Future
II, Crispin Glover sued because he was recast (they used existing footage and a
prosthetic mask); old law provided an opportunity to protect his rights.  Unintended consequences: think of people who
don’t have lobbyists who aren’t getting exemptions who might be affected. That’s
why she is specifically concerned about transferability of rights—young actors
(even minors) w/o bargaining power who will transfer their rights away.  Websites, journalists, ACLU—a more diverse
base consulted. 
Maggs: several unions support the bill.
Rothman: may not understand unintended consequences.
Clenahan: how have states dealt w/intestate transfer?
Rothman: 25 states don’t have intestate rights; Illinois
says creditors can’t get it; Nebraska said it’s not transferable; it’s an emerging
issue not litigated very much.  More
pressure likely to come.  (Bettie Page
transferred her rights to CGM when she was very old, windfall for CGM and not
much justification for it.)  There isn’t
a great model in a statutory postmortem right, but if we really care about
heirs it should be focused on inheritance by natural persons.  Could also do confusion about sponsorship
requirement as some states do.
Q: Lock down the substance first, then the language.  What does “transformative” mean in the ROP
context?  Borrowed from © where it’s been
the most enormous controversial issue in ©. 
Judicially made construct.  Would
Vanna White case come out the same way under transformative standard?  What is NY’s interest in protecting
noncitizens?  Only 5 states allow that, not
even California.
Maggs: If it’s wrong to exploit someone’s persona it’s
Q: what if it’s not wrong in the state where they lived their
whole life and died?
Scavino: Congress might be better, but we know that’s not
going to happen. States as incubators; maybe this will eventually percolate
up.  As NY goes, so goes the nation.
Maybe if NY says this, that will force a larger discussion.
Q: Live stage rights: Carole King, Frankie Valley/Jersey
Boys. The exception seems like it covers a musical, but the exception to the
exception seems to bring that back in. When clients ask whether ROP is
required, what is the answer?  Create and
write the musical, but the next step is reading—may be considered a
solicitation under the statute.
Maggs: Exception to exception is more about avatars/create
people after they’re dead.  [Then maybe
it should be written that way?]  That’s
part of the confusion.  That language has
to do w/Zacchini and taking away
someone’s job by taking whatever entity they’ve created and recreating it w/o
them—recreating their persona.  [Chris
Pine needs to worry about William Shatner, it seems to me!]
Q: Athletes and biopics: does the exception to the exception
come in if there are reenactments of big sports scenes?
Maggs: They had someone play “Who’s on First/What’s on
Second”—they’d gone too far [that’s a copyright case involving fair use—and I
note that the transformative use exception is subject to the exception to the
exception, so even a transformative use is unprotected if it is “inextricably intertwined”
w/ performance]. Depending on how it’s done—if you put a clip from a sports
event on stage v. you have someone pretending to be people, there’s a lot of
variations. [Seems to suggest that one of those should be illegal?]  She’s not sure how that biopic would come out.  [Ulp.]
Q: Active debate about whether we care about the likeness
being transformative or whether the work as a whole is transformative. The use
has a lot of baggage.  Remedies portion:
purposes of trade is in the remedies portion; is there a point of limiting the
remedy more than the scope of the right?
Maggs: want to change as little as possible in the case
Q: so you would have a right but you wouldn’t be able to get
damages if it wasn’t for purposes of trade?
Maggs: yes. A lot of the language like transformativeness comes
from other states’ legislation.
Q: if it’s wrong it’s wrong, then why would you deny this
right to the estate of someone who died 10 years ago?

Maggs: Rights have vested, estates have paid taxes, etc.

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