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17 Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal 213 (1999)


Over the years, the privacy-based tort of appropriation has become eclipsed by its flashier cousin, publicity. Such is perhaps to be expected in a world where seemingly everything has been turned into a saleable commodity. When celebrities are perpetually trading on their names and images in the open market, it may seem quaint, at best, to invoke a dignity as a basis for protecting personal identity. But this is exactly what happens. In case after case, even as they demand restitution for the converted monetary value of their names and images, celebrities also invoke dignitary concerns as a prime motivation in their attempt to protect and vindicate the integrity of their identities before the law. Moreover, for average citizens, the power to control the use of their name or image can be critical to maintaining the integrity of their identities. The courts recognize this, but all too frequently they subsume all such claims under the rubric of publicity. Even when acknowledging the privacy interest involved, courts tend to confuse and blur the boundary between the two causes of action, with the inevitable result being that the more prominent and tangible property-based right of publicity comes to eclipse the privacy based concerns for identity. I say eclipsed quite deliberately, because while these latter concerns persist throughout and animate much of the courts' reasoning, they remain obscured. Thus, never fully articulated, their implications are never fully explored. In this article I aim to bring the tort of appropriation back into the light. My task is to disentangle publicity and privacy, the conjoined twins of our modern media-saturated society. By examining their origins and development I will show how courts have consistently, if often obliquely, granted legal recognition to identity as a dignitary interest. In bringing such interests to the fore, I hope to revitalize our concern for and examination of intangible, noncommercial values as they inform and guide the legal management of identity.

My examination of the relationship between publicity and appropriation illuminates the tensions between democracy and management, even as it provides new insights into the legal relationship between the fungible and non-fungible aspects of our identities. I argue that in assessing the legal status of identity it is imperative to articulate and engage the tradition of concern for such intangible values as dignity and integrity as integral parts of our legal system. The jurisprudence of publicity and appropriation provide a unique and powerful avenue to explore such issues.

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