Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buzz Aldrin Sues Topps for Use of Likeness

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is suing the Topps trading card company in federal court in Los Angeles for the use of his likeness after they used what is arguably him inside a space suit doing the first walk on the moon.

Aldrin, a very private man since his launch to fame, has been very protective of his likeness and has fought to protect others from profiting or exploiting him. What's worth noting here is the fact that you can't actually see Aldrin in the photo on the Topps Heritage box, but you can see the image of a suited man (obvious to all as Aldrin) on the moon.

For a long time it has been said that if you can't see a persons face you don't need a release, and there are numerous court cases that point out the fallacy of that argument. So, the point remains - get a release wherever you can.

If you'd like to know more, the Washington Post has more here.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Oscar Williams said...

Had always thought NASA photos were in the public domain for free use. Went to their site and found the following information. Obviously the problem deals with a recognizable person and Aldrin's photo is so iconic everyone recognizes him.

Thanks for posting. Opens our eyes concerning the need for releases when we might have thought unnecessary.

From NASA ---

Reproduction Guidelines for Use of NASA Images and Emblems

NASA images generally are not copyrighted. You may use NASA imagery, video and audio material for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits and Internet Web pages. This general permission does not include the NASA insignia logo (the blue "meatball" insignia), the NASA logotype (the red "worm" logo) and the NASA seal. These images may not be used by persons who are not NASA employees or on products (including Web pages) that are not NASA sponsored.

If the NASA material is to be used for commercial purposes, especially including advertisements, it must not explicitly or implicitly convey NASA's endorsement of commercial goods or services. If a NASA image includes an identifiable person, using the image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy or publicity, and permission should be obtained from the person.

Will Seberger said...

Interesting. I'm not a lawyer of any kind, but I'd think that since he was an employee of the government (NASA and/or USAF), on official government business AND the photo was made by an employee of the government on government business, that he has no grounds for a complaint (legally, anyway) at all.

He still certainly owns his own likeness, but I fail to see how this is a commercial appropriation of his likeness - it's not an endorsement for anything. And as far as I know, that photo of him on the moon is about as far into the public domain as something can get.

Brandon Bartee said...

Thanks for sharing! My only question is this, more than one astronaut has walked the moon. What is it in this ad that points directly to Aldrin? The marketer (and photographer) cannot be held responsible for people's assumptions about who the subject of a photo is, especially if the only identifying factor is that he is doing something that has been done by several others.

Craig B. said...

Good points. However, some corrections are needed. Buzz Aldrin has been much more visible than Neil Armstrong, who has remained well out of the limelight in comparison. Unlike Aldrin, Armstrong hasn't been on "Dancing With the Stars" . Aldrin was also the second man on the moon (Armstrong was first), so the picture of Aldrin is by Armstrong. There are only a very few pictures of Armstrong on the moon as he had the camera most of the time. Remember, they were only walking on the surface a short time to collect samples, set up a few experiments, and get back into the safety of the LM.

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