MENDONSA v. TIME INC. C.A. No. 87-0371 L.
678 F.Supp. 967 (1988)
George MENDONSA, Plaintiff, v. TIME INCORPORATED, Defendant.
United States District Court, D. Rhode Island.
February 23, 1988.
Knight Edwards, and Mark P. Dolan, Edwards and Angell, Providence, R.I., for defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
LAGUEUX, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendant, Time Incorporated
In August 1980, the editors of Life Magazine ran a copy of the photograph and solicited individuals claiming to be the sailor and the nurse to contact the magazine. Plaintiff, George Mendonsa, responded to this solicitation. He told the editors that, from personal experience as well as from a number of identifying circumstances in the photograph itself, he knew that he was the "kissing sailor." The magazine, however, made no formal attempt to identify the sailor.
In April 1987, Life Magazine ran an advertisement in which it offered to sell readers copies of the "kissing sailor" photograph for $1,600 each. Shortly thereafter, Mendonsa filed the present suit in Rhode Island Superior Court against the publisher, Time. The complaint sought compensatory damages and injunctive relief for "misappropriation of likeness" under R.I. Gen.Laws § 9-1-28.1(a)(2) (1985).
Time removed the case to this Court and moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim under Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2). On September 4, 1987, plaintiff objected to this motion and amended his complaint to add a cause of action under R.I.Gen.Laws § 9-1-28 (1985). On September 24, 1987, Time replied that Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2) and Section 9-1-28 confer "identical" rights and that, therefore, its arguments in support of dismissing the original complaint equally support dismissing the amended complaint. The Court heard arguments on the motion to dismiss and the matter was taken under advisement. The motion is now in order for decision.
When considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12b(6), the Court must accept all the facts pleaded as true and draw all inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Harper v. Cserr,
The Origins of a "Right to Privacy"
The invasion of the right to privacy was articulated as a separate tort in a famous article by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis. See generally S. Warren and L. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv.L. Rev. 193 (1890). In their article the authors concluded that a common law right to privacy, essentially a right "to be let alone," was entitled to explicit recognition because the substance of the right already was protected under the law of property, defamation and contracts.
Initially courts declined to recognize this "new" tort. For example, in Roberson v. Rochester Folding Box Co., 171 N.Y. 538,
N.Y.Civil Rights Law § 51 (McKinney Supp.1988).
Three years later, in Pavesich v. New England Life Insurance Co., 122 Ga. 190, 50 S.E. 68, 81 (1905), the Supreme Court of Georgia recognized a common law right to privacy where the defendant published plaintiff's name and picture to advertise its insurance services. The Court held that "the publication of one's picture without his consent by another as an advertisement, for the mere purpose of increasing the profits and gains of the advertiser, is an invasion of [the] right [of privacy]." Following Pavesich, many courts soon recognized a common law right to privacy in cases of misappropriation of name or likeness for commercial purposes. Several jurisdictions also recognized a common law right against misappropriation of likeness for noncommercial purposes. See, e.g., State ex rel. LaFollette v. Hinkle, 131 Wn. 86, 229 P. 317 (1924) (use of name as candidate by political party); Hinish v. Meier & Frank Co., 166 Or. 482, 113 P.2d 438 (1941) (name signed to telegram urging governor to veto a bill); Schwartz v. Edrington, 133 La. 235, 62 So. 660 (1913) (name signed to petition); Hamilton v. Lumbermen's Mut. Cas. Co.,
In the years that followed, the courts expanded the common law right to privacy considerably. In 1971 noting that much debate has always existed over the definition and scope of the "right to privacy," Professor Prosser categorized four distinct kinds of invasions: (1) intrusion upon one's physical solitude or seclusion; (2) public disclosure of private facts; (3) publicity that places someone in a false light in the public's eye; and (4) appropriation of one's name or likeness for another's benefit. W. Prosser, Law of Torts, § 117 (4th Ed.1971). The American Law Institute (ALI) has adopted this formulation as its general statement of the law. See Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 652A (1977). In turn, courts have widely adopted the Restatement formulation as the common law rule in their jurisdiction. See, e.g., Lawrence v. A.S. Abell Co.,
The "Right to Privacy" in Rhode Island
In the early years of this century, the Rhode Island Supreme Court declared that there was no common law right to privacy in Rhode Island. Henry v. Cherry & Webb, 30 R.I. 13, 73 A. 97 (1909). The Henry Court held that there could be no recovery of damages in an action based on an invasion of an alleged right to privacy in an action against a merchant who had published a newspaper advertisement containing a picture of plaintiff seated in an automobile. Although the Court noted that the advertisement was made without the knowledge and consent of the plaintiff, made plaintiff the object of ridicule and caused him great mental anguish, it stated
For 63 years following the Henry decision, the Rhode Island General Assembly failed to recognize any cause of action for the invasion of privacy. In 1972 this Court (Pettine, J.) was asked to recognize a cause of action for invasion of privacy in Gravina v. Brunswick Corp.,
Id. at 2-3.
Three months later, the Rhode Island General Assembly responded by enacting legislation providing for both injunctive relief and damages for the unauthorized commercial use of the name, portrait or picture of any person. R.I.Gen.Laws § 9-1-28 (1985). The statute provides in part:
Section 9-1-28 closely resembles Section 51 of the New York Civil Rights Law and was apparently modeled after that New York statute.
Seven years later, in Kalian v. People Acting Through Community Effort, Inc., 122 R.I. 429,
Causes of Action under Section 9-1-28 and Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2)
Mendonsa proceeds here under Section 9-1-28 and Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2). To determine whether Mendonsa has stated a cause of action under these statutes, this Court under Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins,
By its own terms, Section 9-1-28 provides a cause of action for "any person" whose "name, portrait or picture" is used within the state for "advertising purposes" or for the "purposes of trade" "without his written consent." The statute further provides that such a person may recover damages "for any injuries sustained by reason of such use" and that the court may award treble damages if the defendant "knowingly used the name, portrait or picture in an unlawful manner."
To make out a violation, then, plaintiff must prove three distinct elements:
(1) use of his name, portrait, or picture
(2) without written permission.
(3) for advertising or trade purposes.
See Allen v. National Video Inc.,
The New York courts have held that to prove "trade purposes" a plaintiff must present evidence of "commercial exploitation." Novel v. Beacon Operating Corp.,
Id. (emphasis in original).
Applying Section 51 in the context of all commercial uses, however, would clearly violate the First Amendment. To avoid such a conflict, the New York courts have consistently emphasized that activities involving the dissemination of news or information concerning matters of public interest are privileged and do not fall within "the purposes of trade" contemplated by Section 51, despite the fact that they are carried on for profit. Thus, the New York courts early held that the use of a name or picture in a newspaper, magazine, or newsreel, in connection with an item of news of one that is newsworthy, is not a use for "purposes of trade" within the meaning of the Civil Rights law. See Gautier v. Pro-Football, Inc.,
The scope of the subject matter which may be considered of "public interest" or "newsworthy" has been defined in most liberal and far reaching terms. As one New York Court has noted, "The privilege of enlightening the public is by no means limited to the dissemination of news in the sense of current events but extends far beyond to include all types of factual, educational and historical data, or even entertainment and amusement, concerning interesting phases of human activity in general." Paulsen v. Personality Posters, Inc.,
Several New York cases cited in Gautier, illustrate this principle. In Redmond v. Columbia Pictures Corp., 277 N.Y. 707, 14 N.E.2d 636 (1938), plaintiff, a professional golfer, had been photographed for newsreel purposes to which no objection was made. The film was later sold and used as part of short feature pictures portraying sports in a humorous manner. The films were distributed for profit in numerous movie theaters. The New York Court of Appeals held that the use was "for purposes of trade" within Section 51. See also Franklin v. Columbia Pictures Corp., 246 A.D. 35, 284 N.Y.S. 96 (1935) aff'd, 271 N.Y. 554, 2 N.E.2d 691 (1936).
In Blumenthal v. Picture Classics, 235 A.D. 570, 257 N.Y.S. 800 (1932), aff'd without op. 261 N.Y. 504, 185 N.E. 713 (1933), a movie company filmed a picture entitled "Sightseeing in New York with Nick and Tony" which it distributed to various movie theaters. Six seconds of the film consisted of closeup, full-size views of plaintiff, a street vendor, selling bread and rolls. The Court held that this use of the plaintiff's picture was for "purposes of trade."
As the Gautier court noted, Blumenthal illustrates the area of privacy which may not be invaded:
Gautier, 107 N.E.2d at 489.
In the present case, Mendonsa claims that the initial and subsequent publication of his photograph as well as Time's recent sale of a limited edition of the photograph for $1,600 each constituted use "for the purposes of trade" within the meaning of Section 9-1-28.
The original publication of the photograph in 1945 shortly after V.J. day clearly had significance as news because it contributed information about the recent surrender of the Japanese and the reaction of Americans to it. As the preceding analysis of New York law demonstrates, Time's initial publication of the photograph cannot be deemed a use for "purposes of trade" within Section 9-1-28.
Plaintiff has also alleged, however, that since the initial publication, the photograph has been "published and publicly distributed in Life Magazine and other publications on numerous occasions." From these allegations alone, the Court cannot conclude that these publications had significance as news. Moreover, Time's recent attempt to sell the photograph in a limited edition for $1,600 clearly had a commercial purpose apart from the dissemination of news. Whether these more recent uses functioned primarily as a means of commercial exploitation or served some other protected public interest is a matter that will have to be decided after a full development of the facts. At this stage, viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, it appears that plaintiff has adequately alleged that his picture was used for "purposes of trade" within the meaning of Section 9-1-28. Consequently, Mendonsa has stated a cause of action under that statute.
Mendonsa also seeks relief under section 9-1-28.1(a)(2). Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2) recognizes the "right to be secure from an appropriation of one's name or likeness." The statute further provides:
On its face, the statute appears to protect the appropriation of one's name or likeness for both commercial and noncommercial purposes as long as the appropriation is of "benefit" to someone other than the claimant. As discussed earlier, however, Section 9-1-28, already creates a cause of action for unauthorized uses for commercial purposes. If the General Assembly had intended to include such a cause of action in Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2), it would have repealed Section 9-1-28 because that provision would no longer be necessary. Therefore, it must be concluded that in enacting Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2) the legislature intended only to prohibit the misappropriation of likeness for noncommercial purposes. See, e.g., State ex rel. LaFollette v. Hinkle, 131 Wn. 86, 229 P. 317, supra (use of name as candidate by political party); Hinish v. Meier & Frank Co., 166 Or. 482, 113 P.2d 438, supra (name signed to telegram urging governor to veto a bill); Schwartz v. Edrington, 133 La. 235, 62 So. 660, supra (name signed to petition); Hamilton v. Lumbermen's Mut. Cas. Co.,
In the present case, Mendonsa claims that Time has used his likeness without his consent for commercial purposes. Mendonsa therefore implicates the rights protected by Section 9-1-28 and not those rights protected by Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2). Accordingly, Mendonsa has failed to state a claim under Section 9-1-28.1(a)(2), but, as concluded above plaintiff has stated a cause of action under Section 9-1-28. Therefore, defendant's motion to dismiss is denied.
It is so Ordered.
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