21 April 2018

BOOK: Jennifer E. ROTHMAN, The Right of Publicity : Privacy Reimagined for a Public World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018). ISBN 9780674980983, €36.00

Harvard University Press will publish a new book on the history of the right of publicity next month. The book can be pre-ordered with the publisher.


Who controls how one’s identity is used by others? This legal question, centuries old, demands greater scrutiny in the Internet age. Jennifer Rothman uses the right of publicity—a little-known law, often wielded by celebrities—to answer that question, not just for the famous but for everyone. In challenging the conventional story of the right of publicity’s emergence, development, and justifications, Rothman shows how it transformed people into intellectual property, leading to a bizarre world in which you can lose ownership of your own identity. This shift and the right’s subsequent expansion undermine individual liberty and privacy, restrict free speech, and suppress artistic works.

The Right of Publicity traces the right’s origins back to the emergence of the right of privacy in the late 1800s. The central impetus for the adoption of privacy laws was to protect people from “wrongful publicity.” This privacy-based protection was not limited to anonymous private citizens but applied to famous actors, athletes, and politicians. Beginning in the 1950s, the right transformed into a fully transferable intellectual property right, generating a host of legal disputes, from control of dead celebrities like Prince, to the use of student athletes’ images by the NCAA, to lawsuits by users of Facebook and victims of revenge porn.

The right of publicity has lost its way. Rothman proposes returning the right to its origins and in the process reclaiming privacy for a public world.


Jennifer E. Rothman is Professor of Law and the Joseph Scott Fellow at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.


I. The Big Bang
1. The Original “Right of Publicity”
2. From the Ashes of Privacy
3. A Star Is Born?
II. The Inflationary Era
4. A Star Explodes
5. A Star Expands
III. Dark Matter
6. The (In)alienable Right of Publicity
7. The Black Hole of the First Amendment
8. A Collision Course with Copyright
Epilogue: The Big Crunch

More information on the publisher’s website

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