Contacts: Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment counsel, (202) 861-1500; Ian Marquand, SPJ FOI chairman, (406) 542-4400.
INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists today is asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject Tiger Wood’s appeal in a right-of-publicity lawsuit that threatens First Amendment rights.
Woods sued artist Rick Rush after the artist painted Woods at the Masters golf tournament in April 1997 and then sold 250 limited-edition serigraphs and 5,000 smaller lithographs. Woods claims the sale of the paintings violate his trademark and right of publicity. Rush has created similar paintings of sports stars Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson during public events.
The Society today joins the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing a friend-of-the-court brief on the case. The brief, drafted by the Reporters Committee, asks the federal appeals court to reject Woods’ appeal of a decision by U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Gaughan that the artwork did not violate Woods’ rights. The New York Times Co. and a group of law professors also filed separate briefs in support of Rush.
SPJ and other organizations believe that if Woods’ appeal is successful, it would increase the potential for publicity rights laws to extend into the newsgathering process.
“Journalists, as well as others, should be free to express ideas about celebrities without fear that they could be sued merely because the celebrity did not like that particular expression and deemed it ‘unnewsworthy,’ ” the Reporters Committee/SPJ court brief states. “Whatever publicity rights a citizen may have, they should be no stronger than, nor should they invalidate, another citizen’s constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.”
SPJ argues to the appeals court that Woods’ claim should be thrown out because it violates the First Amendment and because right of publicity does not cover non-commercial expression and images garnered at public events.
Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment counsel and an associate at Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C., said that these stories and others reveal that the right-to-publicity issue is an important one for SPJ because celebrities increasingly are attempting to control the way in which their “images” appear in popular media.
“Judge Gaughan’s decision correctly recognized that Rush’s work is protected by the First Amendment,” Brown said. “She brushed aside the old argument that because he has sold his paintings that he is engaging in nothing but commercial speech. It’s important for SPJ to fight these cases not only because of the imminent danger they present to free expression but also their potential to one day invade the realm of more traditional newsgathering.”
The Woods’ case is similar to one SPJ joined last year regarding Dustin Hoffman’s right-of-publicity claim over Los Angeles Magazine’s use of a “Tootsie” photograph. In the case, which still is pending, more than 20 media companies, organizations and trade associations, including SPJ, filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn a district court judgment in favor of Hoffman’s claim. The computer-modified photo shows the face and head of Hoffman as he appeared in “Tootsie” with the body of a male model wearing an evening gown.
“Apparently we have reached an era in America where celebrities believe they and the corporate image-makers who represent them have absolute control over their names and images,” said Ian Marquand, SPJ FOI chairman. “This belief is a fallacy and represents the worst kind of celebrity ego-centrism, not to mention corporate greed, and ignores the First Amendment law already established. We have very clear legal precedents on what constitutes misappropriation of name or image, as well as what constitutes libel.”
The Society of Professional Journalists is dedicated to improving and protecting journalism. It is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
A complete copy of the Reporters Committee/SPJ brief can be found.
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.