Andrew M. Jung


Within the past couple of years, social networking websites have become an immensely popular destination for people from all walks of life. Websites like Facebook and Twitter now count tens of millions of worldwide users, including world leaders and a number of celebrities. Eventually, users realized that social networking websites lent themselves to the quick and easy impersonation of celebrities through the creation of fake social networking accounts, often as a form of parody. One subject of such impersonation was professional baseball manager Tony La Russa, who took the then-unprecedented step of suing his impersonators and Twitter over the incident. While La Russa's case was ultimately dismissed before a judge could rule on any claims, the suit did raise a couple of interesting—and largely unresolved—issues. This note examines one such issue-namely how the right of publicity interfaces with social networking sites. The right of publicity is predominantly considered an economic property right and is generally defined as the right to control the use of a person's image, likeness, or name.

This note traces the development of the right of publicity, as well as the workings of some of the most popular social networking websites, with a particular emphasis on Twitter. Next, this note argues that the right of publicity may be an effective avenue to prevent unauthorized and harmful impersonation on the internet, but because of a recent trend of celebrity over-protection, the right still needs competing First Amendment principles to control its reach. Finally, this note looks to "fair use" concepts borrowed partly from copyright law to help determine where the limits of publicity rights on the internet should lie.