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Costanza v. Seinfeld - 181 Misc. 2d 562, 693 N.Y.S.2d 897 (Sup. Ct. 1999)

Rule:

N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50 and 51 clearly provide that written consent is necessary for use of a person's name or likeness. It extends only to the use of a name or likeness for trade or advertising. The sort of commercial exploitation prohibited and compensable if violated is solicitation for patronage. Works of fiction and satire do not fall within the narrow scope of the statutory phrases advertising and trade. 

Facts:

Michael Costanza brought suit against the defendants, comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David (who was the cocreator of the television program Seinfeld), the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. and the production companies for invasion of privacy and being placed in a false light. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim.

Issue:

Was Costanza’s suit against the defendants for invasion of privacy and being placed in a false light meritorious?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court granted defendants' motion. According to the court, in New York there is no common-law right to privacy and any relief must be sought under N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 50 and 51. The court held that under sections 50 and 51 a person could maintain a suit for appropriation of a person's name and likeness for trade and advertising purposes. The court held, however, that works of fiction and satire did not fall within the narrow scope of the statutory phrases advertising and trade. The court further held that Costanza's claim was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. The court also dismissed Costanza's claim for defamation because any statements made were merely statements of opinion and not statements of fact. Finally, the court granted defendants' motion for sanctions against Costanza for filing a frivolous lawsuit. The court held that the suit was frivolous because there was no genuine basis in law for the suit based on New York's long-standing history of barring such claims.

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