Attleboro, MA asked in Copyright, Intellectual Property and Libel & Slander for Massachusetts

Q: Can a public domain image of a politician be used for a commercial product, or do personality rights come into play?

I'm curious if all the humorous political paraphernalia that includes an actual photo of a person is legal or not. (For example: Trump or Obama toilet paper)

1 Lawyer Answer
Glenn B. Manishin
Glenn B. Manishin
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Warrenton, VA

A: Copyright in images typically does not apply to parodies, and it is unlikely you can libel a famous person (a "public figure") with a political humor under the First Amendment and New York Times v. Sullivan unless your statement is presented as a fact and you have "actual malice" — knowledge the statement is false. So while the answer depends on the nature and context of your parody, it appears you are likely free from liability.

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