Celebrity Chef Sues to Cancel Contract Transferring His Right of Publicity
Celebrity chef Kent Rathbun has sued to invalidate an assignment of his rights to the use of his name and likeness. Rathbun, a former contestant on Iron Chef America and a four-time James Beard-Award nominated chef from Dallas, objects to an onerous contract he signed with H2R Restaurant Holdings and several other Texas businesses, including one that uses his name-- Kent Rathbun Elements, LLC. Rathbun claims that he received no consideration for the agreement.
Consideration is the least of the problems with this contract. Arguably, there was consideration, if the companies funded his restaurants and promoted his name, as well as the restaurants themselves. The real outrage here is not the lack of consideration, but that it's even possible to transfer in perpetuity one's right to use one's own name and likeness to someone else. The contract claims to do exactly that. Even though the contract limits itself to uses within the restaurant business and related to the defendants' restaurants in particular, the contract broadly limits any uses by Rathbun of his own name and likeness that are related to his work as a chef.
Texas law governing the living has not addressed whether the right is transferable and this case gives the state the opportunity to limit the transferability of such a right. As I have written elsewhere, it is highly problematic to give anyone other than an identity-holder, the long-term right to control how that person can use his own name and likeness.
It will be interesting to see how the facts of this case develop, but on its face the contract is one that should not be permissible.
THE RIGHT OF PUBLICITY: Privacy Reimagined for a Public World
This book from Harvard University Press by Professor Jennifer Rothman traces the history and development of the right of publicity and its current collision course with individual liberty, free speech and copyright law.