Even Gold Paint Guy has publicity rights

Oh that's gotta be rough...

Patrick Tribett is the poster boy for pwnage. Tribett had a pretty bad addiction to huffing spray paint to get high (never tried it, but that does not sound like fun). He was such a mess that he walked in to a Bellaire, Ohio general store looking for another round. The owner called the cops, who came to the scene. They suspected Tribett of unlawful abuse of inhalants.

Of course, the investigation didn’t take too long — given the gold paint all over his high as a kite face. His mugshot made The Smoking Gun (never a good thing) and the ensuing hilarity made Tribett the “gole paint guy” — yep, Tribett became his very own internet meme. Even after that, he got busted huffing paint again.

I am not writing this piece to pile more shit on poor Mr. Tribett. Actually, the guy seems to have gotten his act together. Yay Gold Paint Guy!

And even better… he’s given me fodder for a Right of Publicity Law post!!! Thanks Gold Paint Guy!

It turns out that Tribett is planning to file a lawsuit against Amazon, Cafe Press, and Hot Toys (source). Normally, this might be where I call him an asshat, but I am not going to do that this time. Tribett might very well have a legitimate case.

Tribett isn’t suing everyone who used his mugshot. If he did, that would land him an asshat award, because we have a right to use that picture — and we have a right to use that picture to mock him. All the websites devoted to him are First Amendment protected. All of these uses are a-ok. The photograph would not be protected by copyright, as it is automatically in the public domain.

But, everything changes when you start making t-shirts and mugs of the guy.

Yes, a little cottage industry started running after Mr. Tribett’s unfortunately hilarious mugshot started flying around cyberspace. I wouldn’t imagine that it contributed a lot to the economy, but I am sure that a few people made a few bucks off of him — and now Tribett wants his cut. And under the law, he’s got a point.

Publicity rights give a person the right to profit from the commercial exploitation of his or her image, likeness, or name. That’s why you can’t just slap a picture of Tiger Woods on a box of condoms, and you can’t slap my picture on an ass kicking machine without paying for the privilege. Not all states protect publicity rights, but they are recognized by statute or common law claims in at least 30 states. Mr. Tribett’s West Virginia does not have a ROP statute, but the state common law recognizes it. See Curran v. Amazon.com Inc., 36 Media L. Rptr. 1641 (S.D. W.Va. Feb. 19, 2008) (justia file)

Good luck to Mr. Tribett in his quest for extended sobriety. I am looking forward to seeing how his ROP case goes.

3 Responses to Even Gold Paint Guy has publicity rights

  1. justicer says:

    This is a question from an overseas attorney who knows little (if any) about U.S. Law: If a website (say a blog) posts pictures of Gold Paint Guy in order to mock him, and said website profits from daily advertising (making “a few bucks” every know and then as your post says), would it be ok to say that Mr. Tribett is entitled to profit from the commercial exploitation of his image? Would it even be a publicity rights case?

    • The mere fact that there is commercial gain does not make it a commercial use. For example, if my blog happened to have ads, it wouldn’t change the fact that I have a right to use the images in this post.

      The issue turns on whether the image itself is the commercial exploitation. So… a news story about it is okay, even if accompanied with ads. But, a T-shirt is not.

  2. Vedrfolnir says:

    This is why anti-drug laws are such bullshit. The first thing they should have done was get the poor guy to a hospital, not press charges. How does going to prison for screwing up his own life help the guy?

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