Given the prevalence of the terms in every-day language, most people (regardless of their knowledge of the associated details) understand the importance of trademarks, copyright, and patents for individuals and businesses such that products or brands are protected. However, many are not aware that in a similar vein, they have the right of publicity. This right deals with the protection of an individual’s name, likeness, and/or identity. You do not have to be a celebrity or famous societal figure to want to protect the promotional use of your name or identity. Someone else cannot exploit your signature, name or even picture for their own gains unless very specific contracts have granted them the right for purposes you agree to.
Using someone else’s identity for publicity tools presents a multitude of problems. First, it can make it seem as though the person used actually agrees with the message the exploiter is making. For example, if someone’s photo is used in a racist campaign, said messages will be falsely attributed to the person. Moreover, the use of a person’s identity without their consent presents an intrusion of privacy. For celebrities, this is a reoccurring problem, as paparazzi snap photos of them and sell them to the highest bidding tabloid.
More specifically, a person’s right of publicity is infringed upon when their clearly identifiable likeness is purposefully used for exploitative or commercial purposes. The person must have also not provided their consent for the said use of their likeness, name, or identity. Based on the harms (economic or reputational) that occur because of the use of a person’s photo, name, signature, etc., according to the statute right of publicity, the victim can be awarded damages under common law.