Kanye West’s music video for “Famous” displays sleeping naked bodies made to resemble celebrities in bed with him and his wife, Kim Kardashian West. The celebrities between the sheets: George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner, and Bill Cosby … Oh, and not even The Donald was spared. Some see the video and wish that more viewers would understand the “comment on fame” West was trying to make; some see it as pure entertainment; some just wish they could un-see a naked Donald Trump. Then there’s the talk of how this video is a big fat lawsuit waiting to happen.
Start up with a basic, you cannot use a celebrities image and likeness to sell a product without permission, of course.. So let’s discuss the potential claims being thrown around the Internet of “Famous”, and why these celebrities may not want to come forward with a lawsuit at all. Well, firstly, when you start a lawsuit- especially as a celebrity- you’re drawing even more attention to the matter in a very public way. Absent an injunction, a lawsuit will only serve as yet another promoter of the video and may even prolong its current notoriety. So, this could undermine the entire of point of a lawsuit brought by a celebrity who is embarrassed by their inclusion in the production. Additionally, lawsuits are expensive- and with big money on both sides and weak claims at the center of it all, the efforts and money may not be worth it in the end. However, one or more of West’s muses may still want to bring a suit just to make a statement.
Self-proclaimed lawyers of the Internet are discussing that California has a Right of Publicity statute. This statute basically outlaws someone from using a person’s name or “likeness” to sell a commercial product without his or her consent. Simple enough. However, applying this to the situation at hand, the problem is that West’s video isn’t an ad at all; rather, it is a work of art. The Right of Publicity statute in California does not prevent this kind of use of a celebrity’s image. Next up we have “defamation,” another potential claim being discussed. This claim would assert that West is actually saying that he really slept in a bed with all of these celebs- which isn’t something he has voiced thus far. Additionally, celebs are what the law calls “public figures” and because public figures are expected to suffer through some negative limelight as a price for their social status, the law carves out an exception that makes it even harder for them to prove defamation. Lastly is a claim of copyright infringement. This claim would focus on whether West based his depictions of the celebs off of an existing photo or video, and if so would give a viable claim to the copyright owner of that existing work. However, if the figures in the video are original, this cause of action would likely fail.
From Taylor Swift’s rumored disgust over the video, to Ray J’s confirmation that he has put his legal team to work regarding the matter, speculations over the possible legal ramifications are flying about. Whatever the future brings, one thing is certain- Kanye West (literally) made his bed, and now he has to lie in it.
Amanda Magrone reporting on this story. Amanda is a law student, aspiring journalist, fashion-lover and commercial model. She is entering her third and final year at New York Law School, and hoping to combine her passions into a career in fashion law.