Lohan, Noriega video game lawsuits are a troubling sign for the arts

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
October 30, 2014

Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and actress Lindsay Lohan have at least one thing in common: Both recently filed high-profile lawsuits against video game makers, charging that their likenesses were used in games without their permission.

These suits may seem like acts of desperation by people now more notorious than famous, and a judge has already ruled against Noriega. But they are nevertheless extremely worrying.

Lohan and Noriega are part of an increasing trend of celebrities asking the courts to censor speech about them. And if any of these suits is successful, the implications are not limited to video games. Filmmakers, writers, artists, even musicians will all have to worry about how they use famous people in their creative work.

The basis of these claims is something called “the right of publicity.” Perhaps most often asserted here in the celebrity epicenter of California, the right protects individuals against the unauthorized use of their likenesses for commercial purposes. The aim is to ensure that unscrupulous purveyors of goods can't just Photoshop a celebrity into an advertisement, for example, without getting approval (and a licensing deal) first.

Read the full op-ed at the Los Angeles Times.