Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Smith on the Criminally Complicated Copyright Questions About Trump's Mugshot @CathaySmith @UMontanaLaw @StanLRev

Cathay Smith, University of Montana School of Law, is publishing The Criminally Complicated Copyright Questions About Trump's Mugshot in volme 76 of the Stanford Law Review Online. Here is the abstract.

Former-President Donald Trump surrendered at the Fulton County jail in Georgia on August 24, 2023, where he was booked on 13 felony counts and photographed for a mugshot. The mugshot shows Trump dressed in a navy-blue suit jacket, white shirt, and red tie. His face is slightly angled to one side, his chin tucked, his mouth pouting, and his eyes glaring at the camera. Trump’s mugshot went viral on social media and news outlets, and began to appear on merchandise for sale, such as mugs, t-shirts, hats, and even toilet paper rolls. Trump’s own campaign started using the mugshot on campaign merchandise for sale, often with the words “Never Surrender” or “2024” next to the image. His campaign also publicly threatened to “come after” any third-parties that use the mugshot without authorization. But who owns Trump’s mugshot under copyright law? And who can use the mugshot? This essay answers those questions and, in the process, explores complicated copyright concepts of authorship, originality, government edicts, free speech, and fair use.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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