Court Protects Lampooning Celebrities

The California state Supreme Court decided unanimously on June 2, 2003 that celebrities are not entitled to compensation from studios, publishers and artists so long as the likeness of the famed is portrayed creatively rather than literally. The court ruled against Johnny and Edgar Winter, recording artists who sued DC Comics for portraying the brothers as worm/human villains with tentacles sticking out of their chests, called Johnny and Edgar Autumn. Depictions that "are distorted for purposes of lampoon, parody or caricature" are entitled to free-speech protection, justice Ming W. Chin wrote in the decision, Winter vs. DC Comics, S108751. The Motion Picture Assoc. of America had filed arguments in the case so that studios would be able to produce unauthorized drama-documentaries and celebrity spoofs. Celebrities must still be compensated if their actual faces or names are used on commercial merchandise. The court also found that trial judges can throw out these kinds of lawsuits by celebrities without trials. This decision protects the right of studios for background uses of celebrity images, photographs or posters, according to the Motion Picture Assn. The Winter brothers still have a claim against DC Comics for using the brothers' names in advertising for the comic books, a decision the Supreme Court left to a Court of Appeal.