The California Right of Publicity

California is known worldwide for its entertainment industry from movies to television to music and theater. California is also known worldwide for its celebrities most of whom come from the entertainment industries. And California, being California, has always been in the forefront of providing legislation to protect the celebrities from child actor laws to laws regarding the privacy of children of celebrities.

In 2008, the legislature enacted legislation providing that celebrities have a right of publicity as distinguished from right to income from the celebrity’s actual work or performance. Right of publicity is defined as the right of the celebrity to profit from the use of his/her name, signature, likeness, photograph or voice. The right of publicity, like the right of income derived from work or performance does not end with the death of the celebrity. Any income derived from publicity or work is given to the heirs of the celebrity. As an example, income derived from the likeness of Marilyn Monroe, (who died in 1962) used in advertisements now go to her heirs. Her name is used in lines of clothing and cosmetics. There are posters of her available for sale and coffee table books published with her pictures generate millions of dollars every year. All income that Marilyn would have received from these items if she were alive, now go to her heirs.

With this new right of celebrity, sooner or later California will have to decide whether this right is a personal right, thus the celebrity’s separate property like a person’s education, or whether it can become community property with the onset of marriage.

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