Virginia recognizes a right to prevent the appropriation of one’s name or likeness by statute only.



Virginia provides civil and criminal actions to prevent the “unauthorized use of the name or picture of any person [for] advertising purposes, or for the purpose of trade.” The statute is considered a codification of the common law privacy-based appropriation tort.

Virginia Code § 8.01-40

Virginia Code § 18.2-216.1

WLJA-TV v. Levin, 564 S.E.2d 383 (Va. 2002)

Common Law - Right of Publicity 


Crump v. Forbes, 2000 WL 33258762 (Va. Cir. Ct.)

Common Law - Right of Privacy-Appropriation Tort 


WLJA-TV v. Levin, 564 S.E.2d 383 (Va. 2002)

Post-Mortem Right 


Virginia provides a statutory post-mortem right for twenty (20) years after death.

Virginia Code § 8.01-40

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


Virginia Code § 8.01-40

Does the law protect persona?


The statute is limited to use of name, photograph or portrait and at least one federal court has rejected a claim under the statute based on the use of a screen name.

Virginia Code § 8.01-40

Motise v. America Online, Inc., 2005 WL 1667658 (E.D. Va. 2005)

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


The statute is broader and allows for liability for any trade purposes which may include uses in media and expressive works. However, at least one federal court has suggested that uses in magazines do not count as for purposes of trade or advertising.

Virginia Code § 8.01-40

Town & Country Properties, Inc. v. Riggins, 457 S.E.2d 356 (Va. 1995)

Cornwell v. Sachs, 99 F. Supp.2d 695 (E.D. Va. 2000)

Falwell v. Penthouse Intern., Ltd., 521 F. Supp. 1204 (W.D. Va. 1981)

Statutory Defenses 

The statute does not contain exceptions.

First Amendment Analysis 

The Virginia Supreme Court has considered a First Amendment defense to the use of a plaintiff’s name in a real estate flyer and concluded that such a use is commercial speech and that when such a use does not provide informational value it is not protected by the First Amendment. The state Supreme Court has also held that there is a newsworthiness exception to the statute. Federal courts also have recognized the newsworthiness exception, as well as the incidental use exception.

WLJA-TV v. Levin, 564 S.E.2d 383 (Va. 2002)

Town & Country Properties, Inc. v. Riggins, 457 S.E.2d 356 (Va. 1995)

Williams v. Newsweek, Inc., 63 F. Supp.2d 734 (E.D. Va. 1999)

Other Commentary 

One’s name and likeness are considered property in Virginia and the appropriation statute is therefore subject to the longer statute of limitations afforded to property-based claims.

Lavery v. Automation Management Consultants, Inc., 360 S.E.2d 336 (Va. 1987)

Page last updated on: July 07, 2020

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