This is an action brought by the heirs of Agatha Christie against a movie company and book publisher that want to distribute a movie and book, entitled Agatha, that gives a fictionalized account of a true incident in the life of Agatha Christie. At one point in her life, Ms. Christie disappeared for 11 days. No one knows why, although the movie and the book suggest that she did this because she was emotionally unstable and was plotting to kill her husband's mistress. The petitioners requested a preliminary injunction while the respondents moved to dismiss the case.
The issues in this case involve the right of heirs to assert the right of publicity value of the name or likeness of the decedent and whether that right exists at all in connection with movies or books rather than with the sale of merchandise. As to the first issue, the court stated that heirs have the basis to assert the right of publicity if the public figure exploited his or her name during their lifetime and these rights were duly transferred to the heirs. In this case, both facts were present. Ms. Christie's name was obviously exploited, and she made a valid testamentary disposition of her rights. As to the second issue, the court could find no direct law and therefore analogized to the state law regarding invasion of privacy. Appropriating one's likeness for commercial purposes constitutes an invasion of privacy unless the publication is a biography or comes under the "fair comment" exception. Since Agatha was clearly intended to be a fictionalized account, it could not be considered a biography, nor was it fair comment. However, the court also found that where books and movies were concerned, First Amendment rights had to be considered. After reviewing other authorities, the court found that absent deliberate falsifications, or an attempt to present disputed events as true, the First Amendment protection usually accorded novels and movies outweighs the publicity rights plaintiffs may possess.
1. What is a "right to publicity"?
2. Why does the court cite so many cases in the Hicks v. Casablanca Records decision?
This question was answered on: Jul 11, 2017
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