Will I Be the Next Hashtag: Can the Right of Publicity and/or Privacy Protect Those Killed Extralegally from (Internet) Infamy?
Posted: 12 Jul 2018
Date Written: June 18, 2018
Social media has become an important site for organizing and resistance in the 21st Century. But, what happens when the family of a child killed by police wishes to keep that child’s name from becoming the next viral hashtag? The 2017 death of Jordan Edwards at the hands of a Balch Spring, Texas police officer begs precisely this question. Jordan is, of course, one of many black boys killed extralegally, the most famous of whom is, perhaps, Emmett Till. At Emmett’s funeral his mother, Mamie Till, made the extraordinary decision to have her son’s casket open so that the world could see what the lynch mob had done to him. This decision has been hailed as heroic and instrumental in the nascent Civil Rights’ Movement. Not incidentally, the photographs taken of Emmett’s badly mangled face were recently at the center of a controversy in which a white artist utilized those images to create a painting that hung in the Whitney Museum. That controversy begs the same question presented by Jordan Edwards’ family’s choice to not immediately offer their son up as a martyr: what in the law might the family use to protect their slain child’s name and likeness from unauthorized use? The mechanisms ordinarily utilized to protect against unauthorized uses of names and likenesses are the right of publicity and the right to privacy. In this article, I’ll consider whether these mechanisms are up to the task of enforcing the wishes of Jordan Edward’s family or the next family that finds itself seeking privacy and dignity in the wake of horrible tragedy.
Keywords: privacy, right of publicity, intellectual property
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