Asked in Copyright for California

Q: Legal use of celebrities's photo in my film

Hello!!! Thank you for the good site!!!

I'm an aspiring film director. I have some questions to you! 1 - I want to use Freddie Mercury image. I know that it's impossible. But what about if I will draw his portrait by myself? Can I use it in my film?

2- the same question about book cover. Can I use just a book or I need to create "new" cover by myself? In this case I will be completely safe?

Thank you very much!!!!!

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1 Lawyer Answer
Mark B. Saku
Mark B. Saku
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Seattle, WA

A: Use of a celebrities image (whether drawn or photographed) may give right to publicity rights claims, depending on the jurisdiction of use. Many states, including CA and NY have state law protecting the rights of individuals to control the use of their name and likeness. Some of these laws even extend to the celebrity's heirs. There are "fair use" defenses available for violations of this right, but they are fact-specific and you should speak to legal counsel to assess your situation prior to using the image in a film.

Regarding the book cover, copyright law does not protect titles, but it could extend to the images on the cover. Sometimes the use of images in a film are considered incidental and not substantial enough to give rise to a claim. However, if the book is prominently mentioned or displayed, you could subject yourself to a claim of unauthorized display. Again, seek legal counsel with experience with copyright law to assess and clear your use prior to distributing your work to the public.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this answer is not a solicitation, does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with myself or the Law Office of Mark B. Saku PLLC. This answer should not be relied on since each situation is fact specific, and a lawyer should always be sought out directly when a legal question arises.

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