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The Second Life Herald posted an interesting note today about a Second Life store called “Body Doubles.” Body Doubles (operated by ‘Persia Christensen’) sells avatar skins and shapes that resemble celebrities.

Body Doubles' Cameron Diaz AvatarThe right at issue is the “right of publicity.” Unlike copyright, trademark, or patent law, there’s no federal framework for the right of publicity — the right of publicity is enforced on a state by state basis. In California, (the most likely venue for enforcement of these rights) there is a well-developed body of law protecting celebrities’ rights to their own images. Other states offer varying degrees of protection, and some states have not formally recognized the right at all. Most of these protections arise from “common law” rather than statutes, meaning that the law comes from judges deciding cases rather than legislative action.

Virtually Blind Commentary

In general, a celebrity does have a right to prevent people from using his or her image. Because Body Doubles is selling “images” of celebrities in world, it is probably treading on those rights. A good example of enforcement is a recent lawsuit by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman against cosmetic retailer Sephora, which allegedly used the celebrity couples’ image without their permission in an advertising campaign.

In the event of a suit, however, Body Doubles would have a potential defense. Body Doubles could claim that the images are sufficiently artistic and interpretative to give them first amendment protection as artistic works.

Though the first amendment does provide some protection, “commercial speech” gets less protection than other kinds of speech. This is an unsettled field of law, but a recent case (Tiger Woods v. Jireh Publishing) helped clarify the interplay between first amendment protection and the right of publicity. In that case, an Ohio District Court held that a painting of Tiger Woods was protected by the first amendment as an artistic work. On appeal, the 6th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s holding.

Notably, Body Doubles’ avatars of dead celebrities are likely no more protected than those of living stars. California’s 1985 Celebrities Rights Act protects the right of publicity for seventy years after the death of a celebrity.

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2 Responses to “Celebrity Look-Alike Avatars and the Right of Publicity”

  1. on 05 Mar 2007 at 2:45 amRick

    I am struggling to find much point to second life, here you have another example of a problem it creates. Take a look at http://luddites-or-la…d-life.html and let me know what you think

  2. on 25 Jun 2008 at 10:19 amMorgana

    I’m sorry, Rick…
    As a designer in Second Life, I have to wonder how ppl got on before, without it.
    Here, you have the perfect space for reclusive’s like myself, to be able to show the talents they have or even for a “normal” designer to show their merchandise, and see how it would be received by the general public before wasting a ton of money, on a piece of…. well you get the point.
    So what if she is making these shapes?? I love them!
    Have you ever noticed, it’s likely the ppl that make nothing, or do nothing, that sit around and bitch, about the ppl that ARE making, creating, doing things with their time…
    So here’s an idea..
    Get off your tush, and try the game, before you wank on it.

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