According to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the public may control the name and likeness of figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Applying Michigan common law, the federal court found that the privacy interests of Rosa Parks’s heirs must yield to the public interest in discussing the civil rights movement. In a ruling on January 4th, Judge Robin Rosenbaum, writing for the court stated:
“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. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a discussion of the Civil Rights Movement without reference to Parks and her role in it.”
The case arises out of an action filed by Parks’ heirs under the name “Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute For Self Development” against the Target Corporation. Parks’ heirs allege that the retail chain violated Mrs. Parks’ privacy rights by selling six books, a movie, and a plaque without the estate’s permission. The court held that the merchandise found protection under Michigan’s qualified privilege protecting matters of public interest.
This decision may have implications for other civil rights icons, and may arguably yield a broad privilege to use other’s likenesses. Should the public have a stake in the name and likeness of public figures?