Although the right of publicity has historically been a cause of action invoked by celebrities to protect themselves from an extensive range of conduct, the question remains whether non-traditional celebrities deserve the same rights.  Can President Obama protect against the unauthorized use of his image since he has arguably attained celebrity-like status? I believe the answer is, to modify the President’s campaign mantra, “Yes [He] Can.” This Essay briefly discusses the application of the right of publicity to President Obama and concludes with suggestions on how he should protect that right.
As evidenced by the multi-million dollar industry surrounding celebrity endorsements and merchandise, image is a celebrity’s most valuable asset.  While some may cringe when they see celebrities shill a particular product, it is difficult to argue that celebrities deserve no compensation for the use of their names or images in advertisements since that image often requires time and expenditures to develop. Indeed, the sole reason advertisers use a celebrity’s image is its utility as an effective marketing tool. Also, if a celebrity’s image was built around being wholesome, it is unclear why they should be denied the right to control how their images are used. If a celebrity has the right to control the when, where, and cost of using their image, celebrity-politicians should not forfeit these rights solely because they enter office….
Sean T. Masson