January 20, 2012
The Steve Jobs Action Figure and White v. Samsung
We discussed the common law right of publicity today in class, particularly the 1993 9th Circuit Vanna White v. Samsung Electronics case. If you aren't familiar with the case, Samsung had a national ad campaign which featured an image of a robot wearing a blonde wig, turning letters on a Wheel of Fortune-type board. The campaign did not name White or Wheel of Fortune, but in the context, it is pretty clear that they meant to invoke White. They even referred to the ad internally as the "Vanna White ad." Underneath the image, the text read: "Longest running game show, 2012 A.D." The class thought that bit was fairly funny.
We also discussed a ripped-from-the-headlines example of the Steve Jobs action figure. The company "in icons" had proposed to sell the 1-foot, increadibly realistic action figure, beginning in February. It received a cease and desist letter from Apple, threatening legal action. After initially refusing to budge, in icons caved yesterday, announcing that out of respect for the Jobs family, it would not produce the figure.
Discussing the Jobs action figure after reading the White case was very effective, allowing us to debate drawing distinctions between property rules protecting the images of entertainment celebrities (like White) and public figures (like Jobs), the living and the dead, those who made money by selling their image, versus those who did not. The same issues can be raised by discussing White v. Samsung and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change case.
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