Home Blockchain NFTs and the Right of Publicity: Assessing the Legal Risks | Latham & Watkins LLP – JDSupra

NFTs and the Right of Publicity: Assessing the Legal Risks | Latham & Watkins LLP – JDSupra

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NFT creators must craft strategies to avoid minting or auctioning NFTs that use the likeness of an individual with out their consent.

As non-fungible tokens (NFTs) enhance in recognition, the so-called widespread regulation “correct of publicity” may create further approved risks for NFT minters. The widespread regulation correct of publicity prevents the enterprise exploitation of an individual’s id with out that exact individual’s consent.[1] Most U.S. states have outlined a correct of publicity and, correspondingly, a traditional tort for violation of that correct — typically often called the tort of appropriation.

Whereas the regulation is comparable all through most US jurisdictions, California — the middle of the leisure enterprise — has notably well-developed authority on this house. Due to this, this weblog submit focuses on California regulation in describing the distinctive factors that NFTs may present.


Over the previous quite a few years, NFTs have become an an increasing number of widespread medium for accumulating and selling improbable art work, digital memorabilia, and in-game objects. Saved on the Ethereum blockchain, NFTs present a degree of transparency and verifiability that even many improbable art work objects lack. Nonetheless, as NFTs become widespread, they improve novel approved factors, similar to psychological property rights implications, whether or not or not they symbolize securities under federal regulation, and the extent to which they generate state-law tort obligation risks.

California Regulation and the Public Personalities

In California, a plaintiff can prevail on a declare for violation of the right of publicity by proving 4 parts: (1) the defendant’s use of the plaintiff’s id; (2) the appropriation of plaintiff’s establish or likeness to the defendant’s profit, commercially or in another case; (3) lack of consent by the plaintiff; and (4) ensuing injury.[2] The protected components of 1’s “id” embody a person’s establish, likeness, and voice.[3] The correct of publicity primarily seeks to protect the proprietary curiosity people have of their very personal footage.[4]

Whereas theoretically any explicit individual may assert a declare for infringement of their correct of publicity, such claims are typically launched by notable figures and celebrities whose likenesses have been commercialized with out their consent.

On this respect, the right of publicity is very associated to NFTs bearing the likeness of public personalities. Such NFTs normally should not uncommon. As an illustration, creators have minted NFTs depicting Kurt Cobain’s “The Closing Session” image shoot and that features YouTube film star Logan Paul on a Pokémon card. Nevertheless little has been written on the approved implications of NFT minting in view of the right of publicity. NFT creators ought to consider this concern in crafting strategies to avoid minting or auctioning NFTs that use the likeness of an individual with out their consent and to the creator’s or vendor’s profit. The outcomes of foregoing a sound risk-avoidance approach might probably be essential: therapies for violating the right of publicity are wide-ranging, along with every compensatory and punitive damages, statutory damages, and equitable discount similar to disgorgement of revenue.[5]

Lessons From Comedy III Productions

The 2001 California Supreme Courtroom case of Comedy III Productions, Inc. v. Gary Saderup, Inc.[6] highlights the contours of how a declare for infringement of the right of publicity might probably be analyzed in NFT-specific contexts. There, an artist (Gary Saderup) had created drawings of celebrities that he later reproduced on T-shirts, along with famed comedy trio The Three Stooges.[7] The proprietor of the rights to The Three Stooges act sued, alleging that Saderup violated its correct of publicity.[8] The trial court docket docket ultimately entered a judgment in opposition to Saderup for $75,000, attorneys’ fees totaling $150,000, and a eternal injunction restraining Saderup from using the likeness of The Three Stooges on T-shirts and one other work that he may promote or market.[9] On enchantment, the California Supreme Courtroom upheld the trial court docket docket’s verdict that Saderup had violated the plaintiff’s correct of publicity. The court docket docket stated that Saderup’s inventive expertise “is manifestly subordinated to the final goal of constructing literal, typical depictions of The Three Stooges to be able to use their fame,” and “the marketability and monetary value of Saderup’s work derives primarily from the superstar of the celebrities depicted.”[10] In essence, the court docket docket found no safety to Saderup’s efforts, which have been geared to income off the likeness of The Three Stooges.

The correct of publicity might probably be seen by courts to make use of to NFTs just because it applies to T-shirts. NFTs associated to “literal” (i.e., photorealistic) depictions of an individual for the sake of enterprise obtain might probably be matter to drawback within the occasion that they weren’t created with that exact individual’s consent (or the consent of whoever owns the rights to that exact individual’s likeness). Definitely, California has utilized the tort to each little factor from greeting taking part in playing cards to lithographs and T-shirts. The medium of the infringing work should not be determinative.[11]

Moreover, whereas there are risks associated to minting NFTs in view of state-by-state publicity authorized pointers, the right to publicity should not be so broad that any depiction of an individual with out consent is prohibited. NFT creators can improve defenses, if the data are on degree, inside the event an NFT sale is challenged. As an illustration, inside the context of the right of publicity, creators typically assert that their work is “transformative” and thus protected by the First Modification.

Gary Saderup made that argument, claiming that his depictions of The Three Stooges have been “protected speech” under the First Modification.[12] Nonetheless, the California Supreme Courtroom carefully scrutinized the safety.[13] In accordance with the court docket docket, “[d]epictions of celebrities amounting to little higher than the appropriation of the film star’s monetary value normally should not protected expression under the First Modification,” nonetheless works which may be sufficiently transformative (i.e., works that creatively contact upon or rework the distinctive) is also.[14]

Litigation Risks and Viral Images

All creators normally face litigation risks in using the likeness of excellent figures — along with by minting NFTs — with out consent. In 2010, Paris Hilton launched a correct of publicity declare in opposition to Hallmark Taking part in playing cards,[15] which had created a birthday card depicting Hilton (with {a photograph} of her head and a cartoon physique) as a waitress and asserting her signature catchphrase: “That’s scorching.”[16] The cardboard, Hilton argued, depicted a scene from her television sequence The Simple Life, by which she labored as a waitress.[17] The Ninth Circuit determined that, whereas Hallmark Taking part in playing cards may argue that its use of the cardboard was protected First Modification speech because of the cardboard was transformative, Hilton may succeed on a correct of publicity declare.[18] At current the analysis might probably be associated if, in its place of a birthday card, the an identical depiction of Hilton had been created by way of an NFT.

The hazard of obligation for violating an individual’s correct of publicity is pronounced with respect to NFTs, which can be created by anyone — no approved expertise required. And the NFTs which can be inclined to make headlines are typically those that appear to have required little effort to create nonetheless promote for a staggering income, similar to an NFT of a extensively shared Nyan Cat GIF. Entrepreneurs is also tempted to affiliate an present image of an individual with an NFT as a quick choice to generate earnings, notably because of viral footage are widespread selections for NFTs. NFTs of viral footage are almost poetic in a way — a sort of meta-commentary on the internet’s insatiable urge for meals for the monetization of the trendy and absurd. Nonetheless, creating NFTs associated to an individual’s likeness with out that exact individual’s consent can open the door to a bunch of approved factors, along with obligation for violating the right of publicity. The democratized nature of NFTs is every their promise and their complication; the low barrier of entry can facilitate further choice and creativity, however as well as go away creators uncovered to risks.


As NFTs proceed to cement themselves as mainstream investments in improbable art work and memorabilia, NFT minters ought to concentrate to the approved publicity that will come from using an individual’s likeness with out consent. Even people who keep a copyright inside the NFT and an underlying work normally should not totally insulated from approved obligation, notably on the state diploma. Whereas protections under copyright regulation and the right of publicity overlap, they don’t seem to be coextensive. Thus, NFT minters must pay shut consideration to the strategies by which their work can expose them to obligation for violating the right of publicity.


[1] Hilton v. Hallmark Taking part in playing cards, 599 F.3d 894, 910 (ninth Cir. 2010).

[2] Kieu Hoang v. Phong Minh Tran, 60 Cal. App. fifth 513, 538 (2021).

[3] Smart Regulation Psychological Property & Know-how, Correct of Publicity: Overview, Smart Regulation Observe Observe Overview 2-505-8377.

[4] California Civil Code Half 3344 provides, “Anyone who knowingly makes use of 1 different’s establish, voice, signature, {{photograph}}, or likeness, in any technique, on or in merchandise, merchandise, or objects, or for features of selling or selling,” and never utilizing a selected individual’s prior consent, is liable for damages. Cal. Civ. Code § 3344(a).

[5] See Hon. Kimberly A. Gaab & Sara Church Reese, Cal. Prac. Info, “Civil Course of Sooner than Trial: Claims & Defenses,” Ch. 4 (VII)-E (The Rutter Group 2020). Moreover, whereas courts normally consider enterprise or monetary profit in assessing damages, a litigant may present a violation of the right of publicity even the place there’s no monetary or pecuniary profit obtained by the alleged infringer.

[6] 25 Cal. 4th 387 (2001).

[7] Id. at 393.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 393-94.

[10] Id. at 409.

[11] Half 3344 of the California Civil Code excludes certain courses of media to which the right of publicity does not apply, nonetheless that file is slim and does not textually exempt blockchain-generated content material materials like NFTs. Cal. Civ. Code § 3344(f).

[12] Comedy III, 25 Cal. at 396.

[13] Id. at 396-97.

[14] Id. at 400, 404.

[15] 599 F.3d 894.

[16] Id. at 899.

[17] Id. at 905.

[18] Id. at 911.

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