'Governator' strikes back in fight to control personality rights

While a celebrity may control the use of his/her image sold for commercial purposes, an elected official is at the mercy of those who would satirize the image. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - 'the Governator' - has filed suit against a small Ohio firm that sells "bobblehead dolls" of political figures. The dolls, which are for sale online, depict a smiling Schwarzenegger cradling a gun.

The manufacturer, Ohio Discount Merchandise Inc, contends that the governor is a public political figure and can no longer control his image. Co-owner of the company Todd Bosley says that "[Schwarzenegger's] no different than any other politician". The company has produced a variety of bobbleheads of public officials, stating that the fundraising toys have been received warmly by other figures: "Hillary Clinton signed hers and sent it back" Bosley said.

Schwarzenegger's representatives have described the doll as an "unauthorized commercial exploitation of Mr Schwarzenegger's name, photography and likeness". According to a letter sent to Ohio Discount Merchandise, Schwarzenegger does not permit the commercial use of his likeness except to promote his movies.

The outcome of the suit is likely to turn on whether production of the bobbleheads is ruled to be First Amendment protected political speech or an unauthorized attempt to profit from a famous figure. The law regarding publicity rights is still being developed, and it is unclear how recent US Supreme Court precedent would apply to a case involving a hybrid public figure like Schwarzenegger, who developed a protectable celebrity status as a private citizen, before becoming a political official.

Douglas Wood, Reed Smith Hall Dickler, New York

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