Thursday, October 30, 2008

Allez! Political Vous-do to Continue

Reports are that France's president Nicolas Sarkozy was unable to convince a French court to halt the sale of voodoo dolls bearing his image. The UK's Guardian says that the French court brushed aside the president's arguments that he owned the right to his image when it ruled that the popular kit "fell within the boundaries of 'free expression' and the 'right to humour.'" (Order one yourself via Amazon's French website.)

This calls to mind the 2004 lawsuit filed by California's governer, Arnold Schwarzenegger (actually, by Oak Productions, Inc., the company formed by Gov. Schwarzenegger that owned his publicity rights), against an Ohio company that was marketing a bobble-head doll featuring his likeness.

The suit was later amended to include claims for copyright infringement based on images that appeared on the packaging for the bobble head. That lawsuit ended in a settlement, with the defendant agreeing to modify the bobble-head (to remove the machine gun and ammunition belt) and to donate a substantial portion of the proceeds of sale to Arnold's All Stars, the governer's charity. A nice synopsis of that case is available here.

The California governer appears to have achieved better results than the French president. One reason for this could be California's very strong laws protecting the individual's right of publicity. An interview with William Gallagher, one of the attorneys for the defendants, discusses this in greater detail, and points out the continuing tension between the right of publicity and the First Amendment.

Two points: First, the California case seems to have been settled on reasonable terms given the strength of the governer's legal position. And second, you gotta love a country that recognizes the "right to humor."

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