According to reports, a federal appeals court recently held that Rosa Parks’ publicity rights don’t supersede the privilege to speak about matters of public interest.
The lawsuit was premised on a Michigan statute guarding against the appropriation of the commercial value of a person’s identity.
Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum noted that the law is not absolute since Michigan’s constitution affords free speech and courts have long-recognized a right to communicate on matters of public interest.
“The use of Rosa Parks’s name and likeness in the books, movie, and plaque are necessary to chronicling and discussing the history of the Civil Rights Movement—matters quintessentially embraced and protected by Michigan’s qualified privilege,” wrote Rosenbaum. “Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a discussion of the Civil Rights Movement without reference to Parks and her role in it. And Michigan law does not make discussion of these topics of public concern contingent on paying a fee. As a result, all six books, the movie, and the plaque find protection in Michigan’s qualified privilege protecting matters of public interest.”
This isn’t the first time the heirs of her legacy have sued seeking to protect publicity rights. In April 2005, family members settled a lawsuit against OutKast, SONY BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records L.L.C and LaFace Records who referenced the icon in their hit song “Rosa Parks,” singing “Ah-ha, hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus.” During the case, OutKast had contended the song is neither false advertising nor a violation of Parks’ publicity rights and is protected by the First Amendment.
In that settlement, the defendants were ordered to help develop educational programs to “enlighten today’s youth about the significant role Rosa Parks played in making America a better place for all races,” according to a statement, and work with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute to promote Parks’ legacy.