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•Sugar Hill Gang and their hit song, “Rapper’s Delight” – they were going to perform at an event called the Goodwill Games being televised. Snapple used a portion of the concert, which included images of the Sugar Hill Gang and a portion of the song, without explicit permission from Sugar Hill Gang. This looked like an endorsement for Snapple
Media Lawby the Sugar Hill Gang. The band won because they showed that their picture and voices were used for commercial purposes without their permission.Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., New York Court of Appeals (1902)This was very early on in the realm of appropriation. The box company liked a photo of Abigail Roberson and used it to sell their flour. Roberson was upset by this and sued because she felt that it should be against the law. The court sympathized with her, but could provide remedy because there was no law against this. Because of this decision, the New York Legislature adopted the country’s first appropriation law. Today, most states have these appropriation laws.Consider Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly known as Lew Alcindor). An advertisement used his given name, and he sued saying that he did not endorse the advertisement. The car company said that it was not appropriation because they used his name before, but in court Kareem prevailed.What about impersonators? The key is whether people might be confused with the actual person. Consider Tina Few on SNL, imitating former Gov. Sarah Palin – people realize it’s not actually Palin, and as political satire, it is protected.Midler v. Ford Motor Co., 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (1988)Bette Midler refused to appear in a Ford Motor Co. advertisement that used one of her hit songs (Ford had permission to use the song, but not her voice). The name of the song was “Do You Want to Dance?”. She sued Ford Motor Co. when they hired her long-time backup singer to sing the song and sound as much like Midler as possible. Midler prevailed and won $400,000 because of appropriation. Midler’s voice was valuable, and the public might mistakenly think that she was endorsing the product.Strong defense against appropriation: newsworthiness. The First Amendment protects editorial content. Lindsay Lohan does not have to give permission for Perez Hilton to write about her. Defined broadly, anything that concerns the public or public interest is newsworthy. Companies then only need to be careful about using their likeness for commercial purposes.This defense covers almost all news stories. For this reason, most celebrities have trouble suing over unflattering stories.Consider Hugo Zacchini, the human cannoball. Zacchini was in Ohio to perform for a fair. An evening news broadcast showed his act, and Zacchini sued saying that the monetary value of his act was lost. The news company won initially, but at the Supreme Court, the justices declared that newsworthiness does not protect the broadcaster from displaying the entire show. The case was remanded and ultimately Zucchini won.