The right of publicity, i.e., the right not to have
others appropriate your name or image for commercial purposes, is
an odd duck. It was described by Professor Prosser in 1960, and
later in the Restatement of Torts, as of one of four species of
common law privacy rights intended to remedy the emotional injury
to one's "seclusion" caused by breaches of privacy.
By contrast, the Third Restatement of Unfair Competition in 1995,
in describing the right, jettisoned privacy law's concern with
emotional harm, and focused on the commercial value of one's
identity as a property right, in part by analogy to trademark
Does this arcane historical distinction still matter? Yes,
especially if the rights being enforced are those of a deceased
person. Privacy rights do not survive death, property rights do.
Some states have passed statutes clarifying whether there is a
post-mortem right of publicity. But for those states that have not,
the question of whether the right of publicity survives death often
depends in large part on whether it is seen as a privacy right or a
"I Want to Die Like Dog"
This issue reached the Court of Appeals of Arizona in Reynolds v. Reynolds. In 2010, Robin
Reynolds authored an article for Phoenix Woman online magazine
entitled I Want to Die Like a Dog: Poignant Insights on Aging
Gracefully. The article concerned Robin's efforts to care
for her aging mother. Another article, posted after her
mother's death, included a picture of the decedent with Robin.
Robin's siblings, who were administering their mother's
estate, attempted to have the articles removed on the grounds that
they violated their mother's "right of publicity."
During the probate proceedings, the issue was presented to the
Superior Court, which dismissed the claim on the grounds that there
was no post-mortem right of publicity in Arizona.
Post-Mortem Right of Publicity Recognized
On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Arizona first had to
determine whether Arizona recognized any right of publicity at all,
the issue apparently not having been previously decided. Because
the Restatements endorsed the existence of this right, and there
was no Arizona law to the contrary, the Court held that an individual in Arizona
has a "right of publicity that protects his or her name and/or
likeness from appropriation for commercial or trade
Next, the Court had to determine whether this right survived
death. Arizona law explicitly provides that the right of privacy
does not survive death. However, the Court recognized that the
right of publicity has evolved from its original conception to
something "more akin to a property right, the breach of which
is measured by resulting pecuniary loss, [rather] than a personal
right whose violation results in emotional injury." Therefore,
the Court held that the right of publicity survived death, that it
was descendible as a property right, and that the mother's
estate could assert a right of publicity claim.
An Unauthorized Biography
Nevertheless, the Court affirmed dismissal of the estate's
right of publicity claim against Robin. Although Robin was
compensated for at least one of her articles, they were
"expressive works" that did not use her mother's name
or likeness for purposes of trade. Rather, the Court found that
they were "on the order of an unauthorized biography, which
plainly may not give rise to a claim for violation of the right of
No word yet on whether the estate will seek further review in
the Arizona Supreme Court.
To view Foley Hoag's Trademark and Copyright Law
Blog please click
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Trademarks and design rights are a woeful but combustible combination. Another day and another trademark infringement suit is commenced to circumvent the lack of effective design protection rights in the United States.