Seventh Circuit tosses right of publicity case against Joan Rivers

Bogie v. Rosenberg, — F.3d —, 2013 WL 174113 (7th Cir. 2013)

The Seventh Circuit has held it was not an invasion of privacy, nor a misappropriation of plaintiff’s right of publicity, to include a video clip of a 16-second conversation between plaintiff and comedian Joan Rivers filmed backstage. These claims failed under Wisconsin law.

Someone filmed plaintiff having a conversation with Joan Rivers about the comments a heckler made in the just-concluded show. The producers of a documentary about Rivers included the clip in their work. The clip comprised 0.3 percent of the entire work.

Plaintiff sued, alleging claims under Wisconsin law for invasion of privacy and misappropriation of her right of publicity. The district court dismissed her claims for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The privacy claim failed because, as the court found, plaintiff enjoyed no reasonable expectation of privacy in the backstage context where the conversation took place. There were several people around, and the “din of chatter” could be heard in the background. The court also found that the inclusion of the video would not be offensive to a reasonable person. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument that her embarrassment over the contents of her communications contributed to a finding of offensiveness — quoting from a popular treatise, the court noted that the law “does not protect one from being associated with highly offensive material, but rather from a highly offensive intrusion on privacy.”

The court held there was no misappropriation of plaintiff’s right to publicity, finding the inclusion of the video subject to the “public interest” exception to the Wisconsin statute. The film’s objectives were broader than just showcasing Rivers — it was to portray generally America’s interest in comedy and show business. The court also found the clip to be subject to the “incidental use” exception — it was but a tiny portion of the overall work.