The Inalienable Right of Publicity

58 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2012 Last revised: 7 Feb 2024

See all articles by Jennifer E. Rothman

Jennifer E. Rothman

University of Pennsylvania Law School; Yale Information Society Project, Yale Law School

Date Written: November 12, 2012


This article challenges the conventional wisdom that the right of publicity is universally and uncontroversially alienable. Courts and scholars have routinely described the right as a freely transferable property right, akin to patents or copyrights. Despite such broad claims of unfettered alienability, courts have limited the transferability of publicity rights in a variety of instances. No one has developed a robust account of why such limits should exist or what their contours should be. This article remedies this omission and concludes that the right of publicity must have significantly limited alienability to protect the rights of individuals to control the development and use of their own identities. In the process of doing so, the article presents a major shift in right of publicity law from thinking about publicity-holders to thinking about “identity-holders.” The distinction between identity-holders and publicity-holders is a crucial one, but one that has not been made elsewhere. Without making such a distinction, it is impossible to describe (let alone justify) an alienable right of publicity.

The article presents a major reconceptualization of the right of publicity and suggests new ways of thinking about the right’s purported split from the right to privacy, as well as the competing interests of the public. It also lends insights for other areas of the law in which we struggle with what we mean by property and the appropriate nature of alienability, such as sales of organs, blood, babies, personal data, and moral rights.

Keywords: right of publicity, intellectual property, alienability, fundamental rights, commodification, property, identity, law and economics, privacy, torts, descendibility, contested commodities, misappropriation, NCAA

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K12, K13, K19, K39, L82, L83, O34

Suggested Citation

Rothman, Jennifer E., The Inalienable Right of Publicity (November 12, 2012). 101 Georgetown Law Journal 185 (2012), Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-46, Available at SSRN:

Jennifer E. Rothman (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Yale Information Society Project, Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics