Unmasking the Right of Publicity
63 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2019 Last revised: 11 Apr 2019
Date Written: April 10, 2019
This Article examines the potential influence of psychoanalytic thought on the conception of publicity as a right distinct from privacy.
In the landmark case of Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, Judge Jerome Frank articulated the modern right of publicity. The right is now most often seen to protect the strictly commercial value of one’s “persona”—the Latin-derived word originally meaning the mask of an actor. Among other criticisms, the right of publicity is frequently accused of lacking a coherent justification, permitting only economic redress against public harms to the persona, and stripping away individual identity by allowing for an alienable, proprietary right in one’s personality. Why might Judge Frank have been motivated to create a transferable intellectual property right in the monetary value of one’s persona distinct from the psychic harm to feelings, emotions, and dignity protected under the rubric of privacy?
Judge Frank was a leading figure in the American legal realist movement known for his unique and controversial “psychoanalysis of certain legal positions” through seminal works including Law and the Modern Mind, Why Not a Clinical Lawyer-School?, and Courts on Trial. His work drew heavily on the ideas of psychoanalytic thinkers, like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, to describe the distorting effects of infantile and unconscious wishes and fantasies on the decision-making process of legal actors and judges. For Judge Frank, the psychoanalytic interplay between dual parts of the personality supported the realist interpretation of lawmaking as a highly subjective and indeterminate activity. Indeed, though Judge Frank provided little rationale for articulating a personality right separate from privacy in Haelan, he had given a great deal of attention to the personality in his scholarly works.
In the spirit of Judge Frank’s psychoanalytic jurisprudence, this Article suggests that the right of publicity’s aim, apart from the personal right to privacy, may be understood through the psychoanalytic conception of the personality—one divided into public and private spheres. In the psychological sense, the term persona, or “false self,” refers to an individual’s social façade or front that reflects the role in life the individual is playing. That is, as a metaphor for the actor and their mask, the persona is used to indicate the public face of an individual, i.e., the image one presents to others for social or economic advantage, as contrasted with their feelings, emotions, and subjective interpretations of reality anchored in their private “true self.”
However, the law’s continued reliance on a dualistic metaphor of the personality—i.e., divided sharply into inner (private) and outer (public) subparts—appears misguided amidst a growing technology, internet, and social media-driven need for interwoven privacy and publicity rights. The Article thus concludes by examining intersubjective personality theory, which might provide a useful conceptual update in its view of the personality as contextual, relational, and dependent on social interaction—rather than divided sharply between the public and private.
Keywords: right of publicity, psychoanalysis, Judge Jerome Frank, Jung, Freud, intersubjectivity, advertising, new media, social media, legal realism, persona, personality, Haelan Laboratories, self, identity
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