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Comic Book Questions Answered: Why Can Bluewater Use Celebrity Names and Likenesses?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com). Here is a link to an archive of all the past questions that have been answered so far.

Today, my pal Steve asked me why is it that Steve Jobs’ estate can bar the production of an action figure based on the late Apple co-founder (which they just did)…

but Bluewater can put out an unauthorized biography comic book of Jobs?

Read on to find out!

The law that Apple is relying on (and the same law that they relied upon for a previous action figure based on Jobs back in 2010…


is California Civil Code Section 3344, the so-called “Personality Rights” law.

Here’s the basics of the law:

Any person who knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods or services, without such person’s prior consent, or, in the case of a minor, the prior consent of his parent or legal guardian, shall be liable for any damages sustained by the person or persons injured as a result thereof. In addition, in any action brought under this section, the person who violated the section shall be liable to the injured party or parties in an amount equal to the greater of seven hundred fifty dollars ($750) or the actual damages suffered by him or her as a result of the unauthorized use, and any profits from the unauthorized use that are attributable to the use and are not taken into account in computing the actual damages.

Protection under this law lasts seventy years after the death of the personality. You can read the law here for more specifics.

However, the law has a very specific carve out for unauthorized use that is permitted.

It reads:

For purposes of this subdivision, a play, book, magazine, newspaper, musical composition, audiovisual work, radio or television program, single and original work of art, work of political or newsworthy value, or an advertisement or commercial announcement for any of these works, shall not be considered a product, article of merchandise, good, or service if it is fictional or nonfictional entertainment, or a dramatic, literary, or musical work.

This is where Bluewater is protected. This is because the United States Constitution contains free speech protection which trumps the personality rights discussed here (just for the examples mentioned, of course – free speech doesn’t mean that you have the right to make money off of a $100 toy replica of a dead celebrity). You might ask, then, why does anyone ever pay people for their “life story rights” of personalities when they can just do an unauthorized biography? That is because without life story rights, you would be in trouble if you were found to have invaded the person’s privacy (in other words, you pretty much have to base the biography on publicly available information) or hurt their reputation. Plus, life story rights would typically get you access to confidential information and it would also allow you to make tie-in products that would otherwise qualify as violations of the above-stated personality rights. So there’s a real benefit to getting life story rights.

If you have a question that you’d like to see answered, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com.


Too bad those Bluewater comics are just AWFUL.

I picked up their Three Stooges comic and I enjoyed it. I just think most of their choices of celebrities suck – like Lady Gaga, Ryan Reynolds, the cast of Twilight. I’d rather see people who actually had interesting lives – like Frank Capra or Jimmy Stewart.

Or Hedy Lamarr, who invented a torpedo guidance system while being super-glamorous!

It’s a bit of a shame that action figure isn’t coming out because it’s a very good likeness, better than the comic at least.

Isn’t that Hedley?

[…] Comic Book Questions Answered: Why Can Bluewater Use Celebrity Names and Likenesses? (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) […]

Simple solution for the action figure makers. I’d change the base from the apple logo – then find a look-a-like for jobs and buy his rights and make the figure based on him. Heck, you could even stamp his name on the bottom.

Riley the misadventures of adam west is the funnest comic i have read in a long while

Is the apple on the comic cover supposed to look like it’s falling on Jobs’s head? If it is I don’t like that they’re drawing a parallel to Isaac Newton. Newton was one of the greatest minds in history and probably the father of modern physics and calculus (along with Leibnitz). Jobs is just a guy who made nice looking products and sold them at a higher price point than comparable products from his competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I love my ipad, but Jobs was not a visionary genius like Isaac Newton.

I assumed that the bio comics were protected speech, as long as there’s nothing in them that could be construed as libel I don’t see how they’re any different from a magazine like Newsweek publishing a biography article of Jobs.

(which they just did)

I think you’re being a bit premature.

Last I knew the doll was still being made. I’m not sure that a Californian law is going to carry a lot of weight in Hong Kong where the doll’s producers are based.

Does this also cover comic artists who base the likenesses of fictional characters on actual celebrities? I’m thinking of Ultimate Nick Fury, and many of the characters in Mark Millar’s “Wanted.”

@Russkafin: Possibly — see this Comic Book Legends Revealed for a story about Marvel getting in trouble for using Amy Grant’s likeness:


Marvel settled out of court, so it’s uncertain how it would have gone. However, general rule of thumb is if you’re going to use a celebrity’s face, pick somebody who’ll be flattered instead of someone who will sue you.

figured that blue water was some how protected not only under free speech but some exception to use real people since their books would beconsiderd art not merch. and also why none of the celebs blue water has done books on have filed suit against them

What people do not know is that we contact all the subjects 1st to let them know what we are doing. We offer to donate a % of the book to a non profit of thier choice. Once they agree (more than less do), we will run free ads in all our books and online to promote that non-profit. We have worked with the Humane Society, Doctors without Borders, Peta and more. There are times that we get to interview the subjects as well – in the case of Stephen King (we confirmed a long time rumor) and Charlaine Harris (True Blood). A lot of the people will end up signing copies for us too, like Sarah Palin and Hillary while Ellen DeGeneres gave that out on her show.

We do not use Wikepedia as a source as many people believe we do. There is only 22 pages in a comic book so we are limited in what we can tell. We interview people, do real research. People forget that I used to work at E! Entertainment Television for 6 years.

I am really proud of the niche we carved out here. They are not for everyone.


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