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The Right of Publicity

The Right of Publicity

Privacy Reimagined for a Public World

Jennifer E. Rothman

ISBN 9780674980983

Publication date: 05/07/2018

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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.


  • A fascinating read for anyone who is interested in the nuts and bolts of right of publicity law and how the doctrine evolved to where it is today. It also will serve as a valu­able resource for litigators looking for guidance on how to reconcile the seemingly contradictory precedent in a way that is understandable…This book will quickly become one of the most cited sources by litigants and courts grappling with right of publicity issues.

    —Stephanie S. Abrutyn, Communications Lawyer


  • Jennifer E. Rothman is Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press