Faculty Pub Night with Jennifer Rothman: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student assistant, Kaylee Tokumi. She is a psychology and English double major from Hawaii.

Along with holiday cheer and refreshingly cold weather, the first week of December brought our last Faculty Pub Night of 2020. The featured speaker was Jennifer Rothman, professor of law at Loyola Law School, an accomplished scholar and one who has also worked in the film industry. She spoke about her publication, “The Right of Publicity: Privacy Reimagined for a Public World,” which explores legal and ethical issues related to privacy, identity and artistic expression. These issues impact everyone, not just celebrities or well-known figures, especially in the digital age where our right to privacy has become blurred.

Through her book, Rothman aimed to “challenge the conventional story about the right of publicity in U.S. law.” She underlined that the right to publicity “gives each of us the right to stop unauthorized uses of our identities, most notably of our name or likeness without our permission.” Even though we live in an age where nearly everyone has a camera or recording device in their pocket, every person still has the power to control their image and how it’s used. Without the right to publicity, you might walk down the street and come across a surprise– a picture of your face staring right back at you from the side of a bus. Not only would you be embarrassed, especially if you’re shown in an unflattering manner, but you’d be missing out on an opportunity for compensation.

Rothman spoke about important cases and events that helped to establish publicity laws from the mid- to late- 1800s and late-1900s. During these times, the “instantaneous camera” by Kodak and advanced printing technologies were introduced to the wider public. With new technology came new worries and issues. People were afraid that a stranger would take their picture without their consent. For instance, one camera advertisement actually showed a man taking an image of two unknowing women in bathing suits. Celebrities faced issues, too, as their images were cropping up on unendorsed advertisements. Eventually, more legal regulations were created to protect the people’s right to privacy.

Rothman also talked about the “transferability” of rights, which allows a third party to claim ownership over a person’s identity. Transferability of rights may be advantageous for studios who want to manage their actors, or for producers who want to create movies based on real people. Rothman expressed her dislike of the transferability of rights, saying it is unconstitutional.

After Rothman’s presentation, Rosanne Korenberg joined her on-screen for a one-on-one conversation. Korenburg is a clinical assistant professor at LMU’s School of Film and Television who has been a producer and executive producer on various projects, such as “Replay,” an advertisement for the Gatorade Company. Rothman and Korenburg discussed a variety of interesting topics ranging from constitutional rights to artistic portrayals of famous figures. They even spoke about social media stars and how privacy laws can help to control unauthorized use of their likenesses.

During their discussion, the speakers brought up one particular legal case involving Olivia de Haviland, a former British-American Actress. De Haviland filed a lawsuit against FX studios for her unfavorable portrayal on “Feud,” an American mini-series that was featured on FX in Spring 2017. The speakers talked about the facts of the case, questioning when fictionalizing a real person is acceptable versus not. Rothman explained that you are allowed to feature real people in fictional works, but the people being shown still have some control over how they are portrayed and are owed compensation. When using another person’s image, she prompted creators to ask themselves, “Would I feel comfortable asking a person’s permission?” then start from there.

Legal issues are complicated, but to paraphrase Jennifer Rothman, we should always read the rules. Doing so will not only allow us to protect our own identity but to respect the privacy of others, as well.