Law Office Of Michael G. O’Neill, The Types of Cases We Handle

I was consulted recently on a case involving the unauthorized use of the prospective client's photo for a book cover.

In New York, it is illegal to use a person's likeness for commercial purposes, without that person's consent. This is as close as New York gets to a right of privacy, and the law is strangely named the "New York Civil Rights Law", which has little to do with civil rights as we usually think of them. You can sue for your actual damages, and the statute authorizes punitive damages.

In a case like the one I was consulted on, the damages would typically be the amount that would be paid to a model for this purpose. Since the law does not provide for recovery of attorneys' fees, these cases are generally not worth filing a lawsuit over, and they can often be settled after sending a "cease and desist" letter. In the case I am discussing, the publisher would have the choice of settling or having to destroy all unsold copies of the book, since they can't be sold any more without the individual's consent. The value of the consent is usually much greater than the model's fee would be.

Back to Case Capsules