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Though both celebrities and noncelebrities have the right to be free from the unauthorized exploitation of their names and likeness, every publication of someone's name or likeness does not give rise to an appropriation action. Publication of matters in the public interest, which rests on the right of the public to know and the freedom of the press to tell it, is not ordinarily actionable. Public interest attaches to people who by their accomplishments or mode of living create a bona fide attention to their activities. Furthermore, matters in the public interest are not restricted to current events; magazines and books, radio and television may legitimately inform and entertain the public with the reproduction of past events, travelogues and biographies.
Appellant Mickey Dora sued Frontline Video, Inc. (Frontline), among others for common law and statutory appropriation of name or likeness. In the 1950's, Dora surfed at Malibu Beach. According to Frontline’s evidence in support of its summary judgment motion, appellant was a “legendary figure in surfing” and his “exploits at Malibu … are the folklore of the sport.” In 1987, Frontline produced a video documentary entitled “The Legends of Malibu” (the program). The program is, for the most part, a documentary that chronicles the events and public personalities at Malibu in the early days of surfing. Footage of famous surfers, including appellant, taken during that time appears in the program. Many of those people were interviewed for their on-camera reminiscences. The program also contains the audio portion of an interview of appellant, which is heard in the background as the viewer sees appellant in photographs. Dora states in a declaration that he was neither interviewed nor photographed by respondent, and that he did not consent to his name, photograph, likeness, or voice being used. Dora brought this suit in 1990, seeking damages for the unauthorized use of his name, voice, and likeness. Frontline filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Dora’s consent was not required because the program is (1) a sports broadcast, (2) a news account and a publication of matters in the public interest, and (3) truthful and therefore protected by the Constitution. The trial court accepted Frontline’s arguments and granted the motion. On appeal, Dora challenged each of Frontline’s contentions.
Was Frontline required to obtain Rosa’s consent to use his name, likeness, and voice in his documentary?
The court affirmed and held the publication of matters in the public interest, which rested on the right of the public to know and the freedom of the press to tell it, was not ordinarily actionable. The program contained matters of public interest, which gave it a social value, and respondent was not required to obtain appellant's consent to use his name, likeness, and voice in the program.