In the landmark 1953 case of Haelan Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum, Judge Jerome Frank first articulated the modern right of publicity as a transferable intellectual property right. The right of publicity has since been seen to protect the strictly commercial value of one’s “persona”—the Latin-derived word meaning the mask of an actor. Why might Judge Frank have been motivated to fashion a transferable right in the monetary value of one’s public persona distinct from the psychic harm to feelings, emotions, and dignity rooted in the individual and protected under the rubric of privacy?
Judge Frank was a leading figure in the American legal realist movement known for his unique and controversial “psychoanalysis of certain legal traditions” through influential books including Law and the Modern Mind. His work drew heavily on the ideas of psychoanalytic thinkers, like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, to describe the distorting effects of unconscious wishes and fantasies on the decision-making process of legal actors and judges. For Judge Frank, the psychoanalytic interplay between public and private aspects of the personality supported his realist interpretation of lawmaking as a subjective and indeterminate activity. Indeed, though Judge Frank provided little rationale for articulating a personality right separate from privacy in Haelan, he had given a tremendous amount of attention to the personality in his scholarly works.
In considering Judge Frank’s psychoanalytic jurisprudence, this Article suggests that the modern right of publicity’s aim, apart from privacy law, may be usefully understood through the psychoanalytic conception of the personality—one divided into public and private subparts. In the psychoanalytic sense, the term persona, or “false self,” is used to indicate the public face of an individual—the image one presents to others for social or economic advantage—as contrasted with their feelings, emotions and subjective interpretations of reality anchored in their private shadow, or “true self.” Yet, the law’s continued reliance on this dualistic metaphor of the personality appears misguided, particularly as technology, internet, and social media increasingly blur the traditional distinctions between public and private.
Unmasking the Right of Publicity,
71 Hastings L.J. 419
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol71/iss2/5