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Since the beginning of history, human beings have evolved from walking upright, beginning to use tools, developing language, invention of technology and enactment of laws that make them live harmoniously with each other. In today’s time, people are addicted to many modern cultures including reality television, celebrity endorsements, pop culture, modern products and food in the name of entertainment and progress. In the past celebrities were not allowed to show off their popularities or seek any monetary benefits from their acquired fame and names.
Today a lot has changed from celebrities’ point of view. Celebrities are used by many people and organizations to advertise themselves or their products and services and receive money or other awards in return. However, some organizations and people could not honor this. Some celebrities could also be given money to perform some tasks but they were not honored. This led to the development of Celebrities Rights i.e. the rights of privacy and rights to publicity.
Celebrities Rights enable individuals to make modern contracts for actions such as celebrity appearances, party hosting, celebrity meets and greets and other rather intangible products that exist in society. Surely, the world has become contract crazy; if even the slightest things such as appearances and party hosting are to be contracted and breach of the contract leads to prosecution and trial in a court of law!
This paper discusses some of the most unique true tales of modern contracts and how and why breaching of them mesmerizes, addicts and attracts the world’s population and will continue to do so in the near future.
High Society Breaches
Even though celebrities claim their rights of privacy and publicity, they at times breach contracts they make and break laws, which normally attracts public attention. Since many people like and imitate acts of celebrities, it is their obligation to show good acts to their fans as their breaching of any law may make many people in the society to copy their acts and go against the law. Celebrities’ unlawful acts therefore cause a lot of harm to the society.
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Celebrity heiress, Paris Hilton, for example, made a contract to borrow diamond jewelry worth 60,000 dollars with an insurance company, Allianz, but never fulfilled the agreement. It was one year after the celebrity borrowed the jewelry from the company in 2007 and they were stolen from her. This means that she was to pay the company 60,000 dollars. Fortunately, the jewelry were found and returned to her but she refused to give them back to the company. This made the company to sue her for breaching the contract. Later on, the two parties settled the matter out of court.
In another occasion, according to the Daily Mail Reporter (2010), Paris was arrested by police in suspicion of possession of cocaine in her hand bag and may have been asked to produce $160,000 for breaching the terms of her contract with Worldwide Entertainment. She failed to promote a movie, Pledge This, in 2006 in Europe. The amount of charges given to her was as a result of a ruling made by the Florida District Judge, Federico Moreno that she should pay Worldwide Entertainment an amount of $160,000 as opposed to the original $1 million proposed by the company.
Similarly, Taylor Swift did not get out of the business of contract becoming crazy. The celebrity and her parents, Scott and Andrea, were sued by their manager, Dan Dymtrow, for violating the terms of contract when they only paid him $10,000 for tirelessly working hard in building and launching Taylor’s career. Dymtrow claimed that in April 2004 he signed a personal contract with Taylor that would make him earn 5 to 10 percent of the Taylor’s income for the contract period but was later fired and replaced with another manager before their contract agreement was fulfilled (Grande, 2010).
The defendants claim that the manager did not follow the law by not approving their contract agreement with court and yet Taylor was a minor by the time they were signing the contract. The question then crisscrosses our minds: is it ethical to disapprove a contract on the basis of age? Should a contract stand when it contains signatures of parties involved regardless of their ages? It is an ethical right to obey a contract regardless of when and how it was made. Laws prohibiting fulfillment of contracts on the basis of age should be changed. They should allow fulfillment of contracts regardless of the ages of the parties.
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Surely contract becomes crazy for celebrities. R. Kelly sued Jay-Z for breaching their contract by using violence to deter him from a 40-City Best of Both Worlds tour. R. Kelly also claimed that members of the Jay-Z’s team blasted him with pepper leading to his treatment in the hospital. Moreover, R. Kelly said that Jay-Z convinced their promoter, Atlanta Worldwide Touring, to drop him. He wanted $75 million of compensation for the damages.
In the event of contracts becoming crazy, Charlie Sheen sued Warner Bros. Television for breaching their two-year $95 million contract by firing him and letting him not to continue with his show, Two and a Half Men. He demanded to be compensated with a $1 million plus other punitive damages caused.
Celebrities are people who capture attention of the public and may include authors, singers, politicians, models, musicians, successful businessmen, athletes, sportsmen, actors, reality show stars and journalists (Ahmad and Swain, 2010). Celebrity is a word which is believed by many to be a reward for success. It is normally earned through skills as in the sportsmen and artists’ case, by wit as in the television personalities, by the number of gathered votes as in politicians and others such as princes and princesses who earn it through inheritance.
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Celebrity rights include right of publicity, right of reproduction, right of distribution, right of lending and renting, right of personality, right of privacy etc., which are grouped into privacy, publicity and personality rights (Ahmad and Swain, 2010). They allow celebrities to use their fame to get rich, though they can lend their photos or voices to companies to promote their products and services for free.
Personalities are ways by which people recognize others in the society. People normally build their own personalities i.e. the way they are expected to behave in the society. They differently contribute to the society depending on their talents and capabilities. Personality can also be extended to an individual’s properties and contributions to the community. Once personality is built, people always want to defend it and its abuse leads to prosecution as this demines celebrities.
Personality right has greatly changed over the years. In the past years celebrities such as sportsmen were not allowed to exchange their fame with either monetary or other gains. If they did so, they would be expelled from clubs or organizations they worked for. In the case of Tolley versus Fry, where a picture of the gulf player was used in advertisement of Cadbury chocolates, the complaint argued that defendants degraded his reputation by making it appear as if his picture was used in the advertisement for monetary gain or reward (Tolley v Fry, 1931). But today this has greatly changed; celebrities claim their rights of privacy and publicity (Kumari, 2004).
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Since celebrities are public figures, people tend to be curious about their personal lives. They do so by following them everywhere they go and want to make public whatever funny or unique celebrities do. Celebrities try as much as possible to control whatever information to be released to the public as this may negatively affect them and even compromise their careers.
Breach of Privacy Rights leads to prosecution and trial in the court of law. It is prudent to get permission from celebrities before using their fame in any activity. In the case involving Barber and Times Inc., where a photographer took photos of Dorothy Barber when giving birth, the plaintiff argued that the photographer forcefully took her photos despite her resistance and sued Times Inc. for inversion of her private rights. Ms. Dorothy won the case and was awarded an amount of three thousand dollars.
According to TMZ (2011), Benjamin Bowers, a model, was suing Abercrombie & Fitch and its agent Brian Hilburn for breaching his right for privacy. He alleged that Brian Hilburn convinced him on 17th of June, 2011 to display a cool look in front of a camera to boost his modeling career. Brian Hilburn convinced him that this could only be done by photo shooting him at orgasm after masturbating. But after these photos were taken, Benjamin believes his privacy rights were breached since Brian exposed him and commented on his manhood size. Surely this is a breach of the right of privacy. The contract was that the pictures were to be used to promote the model but not to expose him and comment negatively his body organs.
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Photographers who take photos without permission or knowledge of celebrities, known as Paparazzi, are vulnerable to breaching celebrities’ privacy rights if they publicize them but owners find them not to fit for public viewing or infringing their public rights. In addition, paparazzi like to invade more on celebrities’ private lives. It would be good for states and countries to pass laws that control the extent at which paparazzi are allowed to take photographs.
Ethically, it is good to respect people’s privacy. There are things that, as human beings, we may not need to disclose to anybody, leave alone the public. When these private things get to the public, they bring shame and insecurity to people. This right should therefore be upheld and respected by every person.
Also known as the right of merchandising, publicity right is the right of a person to monitor and regulate the use of his or her fame for business gains. It can also be termed as the right to take advantage of the “economic value” of a celebrity (Ahmad & Swain, 2010). Claiming publicity rights requires establishment that the fame was used primarily for commercial purposes. Otherwise, it will fall under intellectual property rights. Intellectual property adds value to the market and celebrities. Since the fame or identity is owned by celebrities and the outcome is based on the owner, intellectual property can be viewed as a Gross National Product (GNP).
The advancement in technology that led to the innovation of the internet has made privacy rights be transferred even in the cyberspace. Companies and businessmen endorse celebrities in the cyberspace even without their permission. On 2nd of June, 2000 the WIPO panel made a ruling concerning a case involving a famous film star, Julia Roberts and an American dealer, Russel Boyd. The dealer had, without any permission from Julia, registered a domain named as Julia Roberts.com. Though WIPO panel argued that Julia had not registered any trademark in her name, it argued that Boyd had no rights in the domain name as he registered it in bad faith. It also found that Boyd had been building domain names using celebrities’ names and was selling them to people. It therefore ruled that the domain name was to be transferred to Julia Roberts.
Of course a person’s efforts should be respected and he or she should be notified in case their efforts are used for commercial purposes. In this regard, it is an ethical right to let celebrities regulate and monitor their fame. When used for business purposes, they should be rewarded. The right to publicity however should not only limit to the use of fame as a form of merchandise, but also consider the use of fame to promote products and services as publicity right.
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Whereas celebrities claim the right to be paid when using their fame, their employees, including producers, directors, writers and band have the right to be paid for their services. When Canan O’Brien was fired from The Tonight Show, contract he signed to pave way for Jay Leno whom he replaced after hosting the show for 17 years, he negotiated to be compensated and was offered more than 30 million dollars. Similarly, he had an obligation to pay his employees enough money to keep them till they secure another job.
Celebrity Rights Protection
Copyright law, trademark law and passing off actions are used to protect celebrity rights. Trademark law requires celebrities to register their personality when they accept licensing their personality for merchandising specific goods and services. This gives them the authority to defend their personality from unauthorized use.
Copyright law protects celebrities from unauthorized use of their voice, images or properties. It allows celebrities to authorize sale of their production, allow reproduction and permit the use of their images. To sue someone of copyrighting, celebrities have to be able to prove their ownership of the copyright. They however often find it difficult to prove ownership of their photographs when unlawfully being exploited.
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Some Copyright Acts in other countries such as India protect artistic works such as drawing. Reproduction of such works without authority leads to breaching of copyright laws. Section 14 of the Indian Act allows celebrities to authorize reproduction of their work in any dimension including converting from one dimension to another. The copyright law should not only allow reproduction of images and drawings from one dimension to another, but also include reproduction of sounds, photographs and videos from one form to another with authority from celebrities.
Whereas this act of protection from unlawful copyrighting is ethically right, allowing reproduction of celebrities’ works in different dimensions is unethical. In a society which upholds the value of originality, allowing reproduction of celebrities’ work in other forms would create a challenge and allow others to benefit from celebrities’ hard work. It can be ethically right when only the owner of the work reproduces it in many other forms to the personal benefit from the reproduction.
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When a celebrity’s reputation is destroyed through misuse of his or her image or work, passing off heals the situation. In case an organization falsely claims that a celebrity has endorsed its products and services, a passing off action remedies the situation.
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