The Screen Actors Guild and several players’ unions have filed briefs supporting Mr. Hart, saying that athletes, actors and other celebrities must have the right to control the use of their identities and to harvest the financial fruits of their fame. The movie industry, book publishers and news organizations, including The New York Times, have lined up on the other side, saying that allowing celebrities to control speech about them runs afoul of the First Amendment.
The dueling briefs cited a grab bag of cases that are hard to wrestle into a coherent legal framework.
The courts have, on the one hand, rejected right-of-publicity suits arising from a painting of Tiger Woods, a comic book evoking the musicians Johnny and Edgar Winter, parody baseball trading cards and a fantasy baseball game that used the names, statistics and biographies of Major League players. But courts have allowed suits over the broadcast of a human cannonball’s entire act, a comic book using a hockey player’s nickname, an ad evoking Vanna White’s skill at turning letters on “The Wheel of Fortune” and a reference to Rosa Parks in a song.
If there is a legal principle that unites these rulings, it is hard to discern. What is clear, though, according to an expansive 2011 Supreme Court decision, is that video games deserve full First Amendment protection.