Is there a right of publicity for animals? More specifically, do pets have a right of publicity in California? These may seem like silly questions at first glance, but the answers could be very important if you have a pet with a social media presence. These days, it is not uncommon for people to create social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest where they post daily photos of their pets. These accounts can be incredibly popular and often gain hundreds or even thousands of followers. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to monetize the accounts through online advertisements, merchandising agreements, and/or licensing deals. This is where the right of publicity would theoretically apply to the pet whose photographs, videos, and other images are posted on the internet.
To learn whether you can file a California right of publicity claim for misappropriation of your pet’s image, keep reading this blog.
California Right of Publicity Claims for Pets
There has yet to be an instance of a California court ruling that pets have a right of publicity under the law. This could leave you exposed to misappropriation of your pet’s identity by others who wish to take your photos and use them for their own commercial purposes.
The good news is that there are still ways to protect your rights in these situations. For example, you may be able to obtain copyright protection for photographs of your pet. Additionally, you may consider trademarking your pet’s name if that name is unique. (E.g., Davey the Dog.) With copyright or trademark protection, you would potentially have the option to file a lawsuit for intellectual property infringement if anyone ever used your pet’s image without authorization.
Statutory Protections for an Individual’s Right of Publicity in California
Of course, California’s right of publicity law does apply to humans. Statutory protections for the right of publicity are set forth in the Celebrities Rights Act, which can be found in California Civil Code Section 3344. The law protects individuals against the infringement of their publicity rights, which means that no one can use another person’s identity for commercial purposes unless the IP holder consents to it.
The statute explicitly protects five (5) aspects of your identity against unlawful commercial exploitation:
- Photograph or Image
An experienced right of publicity lawyer can make sure that your image, name, and voice are protected against unlawful use by others. This is extremely important because these aspects of your identity may have significant monetary value. When someone takes your likeness without permission, they are also taking away your ability to receive recognition and compensation that you are entitled to. Worse yet, if someone uses your likeness in the wrong context (e.g., an advertisement for a product or service with a bad public image), it could adversely affect your ability to earn money in the future.
Common Law Right of Publicity Claims
California recognizes both a statutory right of publicity and a common law right of publicity. This means that plaintiffs have options when deciding to file a lawsuit for right of publicity misappropriation.
California’s statutory protections for the right of publicity are limited to a person’s name, signature, voice, photograph, and likeness. This means that when a plaintiff wants to bring a right of publicity lawsuit for misappropriation of some other aspect of their identity, they will need to do so through a common law right of publicity claim. The good news for plaintiffs is that courts in these cases often use a broad definition of the right of publicity so that it includes things that go well beyond a literal photo of the plaintiff. For example, courts have found that the use of a voice that is meant to imitate a celebrity’s voice may constitute an unlawful misappropriation.
California’s Publicity Rights Law Protects Both Celebrities & Non-Celebrities
Although the right of publicity was once thought to be limited to celebrities and their heirs, this has changed in recent years as social media and reality television have exploded to give many more people an interest in their public image. These days, anyone with a Twitter or Instagram account may be considered a “social media influencer” who is able to monetize their persona and generate substantial income through online advertising. This makes it important for these individuals to protect their right of publicity when someone misappropriates it. The good news is that California’s right of publicity law has strong protections for both celebrities and non-celebrities.
Free Consultation with Los Angeles Right of Publicity Lawyers
If someone has used a photo of your dog, cat, or other pet without permission, they may have violated your legal rights. The same is true if someone has used your likeness in an advertisement without first obtaining your consent. Your next step should be to speak with a Los Angeles right of publicity attorney. The lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP understand this area of the law because we regularly represent clients in both state and federal courts on matters involving intellectual property.