Murder Will Out: Rethinking the Right of Publicity Through One Classic Case

44 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2009 Last revised: 15 Dec 2009

See all articles by Edward Larson

Edward Larson

Pepperdine University School of Law

Date Written: 2009


In this forthcoming article, the author uses the protracted legal battles over the right of publicity stemming from the lasting celebrity created by the so-called “crime of the century” to propose a legal test for applying the right of publicity generally. These legal battles were fought during the 1960s over the right of celebrity slayer Nathan Leopold to control the use of his name and personality in a novel, movie, and stage play. After conflicting lower court decisions that had a chilling effect on writers and publishers, the case was eventually decided against Leopold. The author agrees with this result but argues that, because there has been a tendency to decide such disputes on a case-by-case basis, similar uncertainty continues to arise in analogous cases. He proposes a clear test, easily understood by both creators and users of celebrity personality, which would balance the interests of the parties and bring added predictability to this area of the law.

Keywords: Nathan Leopold, right of publicity, celebrity, Richard Loeb, intellectual property, legal history, law and literature

JEL Classification: K39, K49

Suggested Citation

Larson, Edward J., Murder Will Out: Rethinking the Right of Publicity Through One Classic Case (2009). Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2009; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009/23. Available at SSRN:

Edward J. Larson (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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