Friday, March 8, 2013

Wants to Make Documentary About Famous Movie Star

Dear Rich: I want to make a documentary film about a famous movie star who’s still living and active. I will use photos and clips of him and license them from Getty Images. I assume I can do this without obtaining ANY clearances from the movie star, correct? Under what conditions could the star sue me? I assume that as long as the documentary is true and not malicious, I’ll be OK. 
A disgruntled subject of a documentary could sue for the reasons listed below ... although as we always advise, filing a lawsuit doesn't mean the star will prevail:
Defamation -- If everything in your documentary is true, there shouldn't be a problem with defamation. Movie stars are "harder" to defame because public figures are supposed to have thicker skins. Translation: the star would have to prove you acted maliciously.
Right of publicity -- Making a documentary wouldn't violate this right but if you were to sell T-shirts, with the star's picture, that might trigger a claim. You violate the right of publicity if your use of the star's image or name for advertising or endorsement purposes.
Invasion of privacy -- Because they are public figures, movie stars are considered to have less privacy than mere mortals. But their privacy can still be violated by intruding into places where they expect privacy -- for example by eavesdropping on phone conversations or peering into a home.
Breach of confidentiality -- If you have entered into a confidentiality agreement with the star and subsequently violated it (or if you were a former employee of the star), the star could sue over disclosure of confidential information.
Copyright infringement --  If you quote from the star's writings or include other works for which the star claims copyright, you can be sued if you did so without permission. Your use may qualify as a fair use ... that requires an analysis similar to the ones made in these cases.

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