Rhode Island

Rhode Island has no common law right of publicity or right to privacy.  However, it has two privacy statutes both of which protect against the misappropriation of one’s name or likeness.  Thus far, courts have suggested that one protects against commercial misappropriation, and the other against noncommercial misappropriation.

Statute 

YES

Rhode Island provides a right to privacy via statute and specifically provides a cause of action for the “unauthorized use of name, portrait or picture [for] commercial purposes.”  A separate statute also provides a “right to be secure from an appropriation of one’s name or likeness” when the use “benefit[s] someone other than the claimant.”

R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-28

R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-28.1

Leddy v. Narragansett Television L.P., 843 A.2d 481 (R.I. 2004)

Mendosa v. Time, Inc., 678 F. Supp. 967 (D.R.I. 1988)

Common Law - Right of Publicity 

NO

Henry v. Cherry & Webb, 73 A. 97 (R.I. 1909)

Common Law - Right of Privacy-Appropriation Tort 

NO

Rhode Island has rejected a common law right to privacy.

Henry v. Cherry & Webb, 73 A. 97 (R.I. 1909)

Post-Mortem Right 

LIKELY NOT

The right to privacy terminates at death.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court, however, did not specifically consider a misappropriation claim which the Restatement (Second) of Torts suggests may be descendible even other privacy rights are not.

Clift v. Narragansett Television L.P., 688 A.2d 805, 814 (R.I. 1996)

Limits on Right 
Does the law require the plaintiff or identity-holder to be a celebrity or have a commercially valuable identity?

LIKELY NOT

Does the law protect persona?

UNCLEAR

No case to date has considered the question.

Is Liability Limited to Uses on Commercial Advertising or Commercial Speech?

LIKELY NOT

“Commercial purposes” is likely meant more broadly and the separate privacy statute allows liability when a use is simply for the defendant’s benefit.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court has interpreted § 9-1-28 as being limited to “trade or advertising purposes,” and has concluded that promotions for television news do not meet that standard. It has agreed with a federal court that §9-1-28.1 applies to noncommercial uses.

R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-28

R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-28.1

Leddy v. Narragansett Television L.P., 843 A.2d 481 (R.I. 2004)

Mendosa v. Time, Inc., 678 F. Supp. 967 (D.R.I. 1988)

Statutory Defenses 

The statue exempts:

  • uses related to public speech or on matters of public concern
  • professional photographers in their establishment unless they receive a written objection by the person portrayed
  • resale of items

R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-1-28

First Amendment Analysis 

Rhode Island has held that advertisements for news stories are constitutionally protected from the privacy laws.

Leddy v. Narragansett Television L.P., 843 A.2d 481 (R.I. 2004)

Other Commentary 

It seems possible given the exclusivity of the privacy-based statutes that rights to one’s name and likeness are not treated as property in the state and are not assignable.

Page last updated on: September 29, 2015

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