Connecticut Law Review Volume 44 - Issue 2

A Right Is Born: Celebrity, Property, and Postmodern Lawmaking

This Article challenges the standard account of the creation of the right of publicity. In legal literature, the prevailing narrative is of the right of publicity being intimately linked to the commodification of celebrity. Ultimately, however, there may be more to the story of the right of publicity than the decision to protect something of economic value. It took decades after it had become clear that celebrities could be valuable commercial spokespersons for lawmakers to agree to make the right inheritable, separate from the dignitary right of privacy, and potentially applicable to any economic, secondary use that invoked the celebrity plaintiff. It was only in the later part of the twentieth century, when American understandings of celebrity became rationalized and democratized, that the right of publicity was reconceptualized as a much more vigorous and far-reaching economic entitlement. By examining the discourse and political environment surrounding the emergence of this new right, this Article offers a new narrative for the right of publicity’s creation, suggests some broader insights into the social forces that shape property rights, and enriches a growing body of legal theory examining the public’s role in producing legal change.

:: View PDF