The Right to Prevent Purchasing Pictures for Commercial Gain

The right to prevent others from appropriating one's photograph for commercial gain has evolved from the common law right of privacy. The "four distinct torts identified by Dean Prosser and grouped under the privacy rubric are: (1) intrusion upon the plaintiff's seclusion or solitude, or into his private affairs; (2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts about the plaintiff; (3) publicity which places the plaintiff in a false light in the public eye; (4) appropriation, for the defendant's advantage, of the plaintiff's name or likeness." ( Eastwood v. Superior Court (1983) 149 Cal. App. 3d 409, 416 [198 Cal. Rptr. 342], fn. omitted.) This action concerns the fourth category, appropriation for the defendant's advantage of the models' photographs, which is also referred to as the right of publicity. ( Wendt v. Host Intern., Inc. (9th Cir. 1997) 125 F.3d 806, 811.) The right of publicity has come to be recognized as distinct from the right of privacy. In the commercial arena, celebrity endorsements are often considered a valuable marketing tool. What may have originated as a concern for the right to be left alone has become a tool to control the commercial use and, thus, protect the economic value of one's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness. In 1971, California enacted section 3344, a commercial appropriation statute which complements the common law tort of appropriation. Section 3344, subdivision (a) provides in relevant part: "Any person who knowingly uses another's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person's prior consent ... shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof. In addition, in any action brought under this section, the person who violated the section shall be liable to the injured party or parties in an amount equal to the greater of seven hundred fifty dollars ($ 750) or the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the unauthorized use, and any profits from the unauthorized use that are attributable to the use and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages. ..." As originally enacted, section 3344 applied only to an unauthorized use "for purposes of advertising products, merchandise, goods or services, or for purposes of solicitation of purchases of products ... ." (Stats. 1971, ch. 1595, 1, p. 3426.) In 1984, the statute was amended to encompass any unauthorized use "on or in products, merchandise, or goods ... ." (Stats. 1984, ch. 1704, 2, p. 6172.) Accordingly, the statute no longer requires that the unauthorized use occur in a product advertisement or endorsement or other such solicitation of purchase. Cases decided under the pre-1984 version of section 3344, such as Eastwood v. Superior Court, supra, 149 Cal. App. 3d 409, must be read with this change in mind. In addition, some postamendment cases should be read with caution on this point. (See, e.g., Fleet v. CBS, Inc., supra, 50 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1918 [quoting Eastwood for the outdated proposition that a commercial use is required to state a 3344 claim], and Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corp. (9th Cir. 1996) 85 F.3d 407, 414 [same].) Although the unauthorized appropriation of an obscure plaintiff's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness would not inflict as great an economic injury as would be suffered by a celebrity plaintiff, California's appropriation statute is not limited to celebrity plaintiffs. Section 3344 provides for minimum damages of $ 750, even if no actual damages are proven. In discussing a similar Nevada statute, the Nevada Supreme Court noted that the legislative purpose for providing a minimum recovery for noncelebrities is "to discourage such appropriation." (Hetter v. District Court (1994) 110 Nev. 513, 519 [874 P.2d 762, 765].) 6 In PETA v. Bobby Berosini, Ltd. (1990) 111 Nev. 615 [895 P.2d 1269], the Nevada court stated the following regarding the different privacy and publicity interests of famous and obscure plaintiffs: "When ... the name of a famous or celebrated person is used unauthorizedly, that person's main concern is not with bruised feelings, but rather, with the commercial loss inherent in the use by another of the celebrated name or identity. The commercial or property interest that celebrities have in the use of their names and identities is protected under what has been termed the 'right of publicity.' There is a certain reciprocity between the two kinds of interests, personal and proprietary; and, accordingly, the more the aspects of one tort are present, the less likely are the aspects of the other tort to be present. The more obscure the plaintiffs are, the less commercial value their names have and the more such plaintiffs will be seeking to redress personal interests in privacy in a common law appropriation action, and not commercial or property interests in their name or likeness as a claimed violation of a right of publicity. The more famous and celebrated the plaintiffs, the less injury is likely to be claimed to their privacy interests, their interest in being 'left alone,' because their names and likenesses already have wide recognition and are not appropriate subjects for invasion of personal privacy. Generally speaking, a private person will be seeking recovery for the appropriation tort, and a celebrity will be recovering for the right of publicity tort." ( Id. at pp. 636-637 [895 P.2d at pp. 1283-1284], italics omitted.)