Monica Fernandez, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2013 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the question: You get a signed headshot from a celebrity. Your parents are so excited that they frame the picture and hang it in the lobby of their business. The celebrity’s lawyer demands that your parents take the picture down. What should they be able to do? What would you tell them to do?
Millions of people in today’s society are consumed with the glamorous lives of Hollywood stars. Businesses across all industries acknowledge this trend and are more than eager to utilize familiar faces to get their name known. Because of this, there have been many cases dealing with the fine line of what can and cannot be used in regards to celebrity property.
In this specific case dealing with whether or not a celebrity’s lawyer has the right to demand that the signed photo be taken out of the parents’ business lobby, I believe that the parents have the right to keep the picture up. If I were in this situation, I would argue that I have the ability to post the signed headshot wherever I choose.
First of all, one of the key points in this case is that the headshot was signed by the celebrity himself and given to the child. At that moment, the celebrity gave the child the right to do whatever they want to that photo. Whether it be to hang it in the living room of their house or the lobby of the parents’ business, the headshot has become the property of the child.
Secondly, the signed picture hanging in the lobby does not automatically mean that the parents are using the celebrity to advertise their own business. This would be the foundation of the celebrity lawyer’s argument: Demanding the photo serves as a false endorsement and overall misrepresentation of the celebrity. However, it is simply a head shot, not a picture of the celebrity declaring, “I support this business!” It can even be argued that the headshot is simply a piece of art the parents appreciate and would rather have to admire in their workspace instead of at home.
Just by keeping up with the daily news, it is evident that countless celebrities have attempted to sue various magazines, advertising agencies, and businesses for similar controversies over false endorsements and libel. The majority of the time, the celebrity loses because their career automatically places them in the public sphere. It is truly left to the individual consumer to determine whether or not it is the truth.
Monica Fernandez is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Political Science and Public Relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.