Maritote v. Desilu Productions Case Brief

Summary of Maritote v. Desilu Productions, Inc, United States Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, 345 F.2d 418, cert. denied, 382 U.S. 883

Procedural Posture: P is administratrix of the estate of Al Capone, deceased, and relatives of Capone are appealing the district court judgment dismissing their invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment suit against D. Dismissal was granted for failure to state a cause of action against D.

Facts: P filed suit against D claiming property right to recover unjust enrichment arising from the alleged appropriation by D of decedent’s name, likeness, and personality, claiming invasion of privacy arising from D’s use of decedent’s name in a television series. Dismissal by lower court prompted P to appeal. P were not named or referred to in any of the broadcasts, but claimed they were mentally tortured by the false claims made in the broadcasts.

Claims of the Parties: P filed an invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment suit against D.

Issues: 1) Does the decedent’s estate have the right to recovery under the property right for unjust enrichment of D from the use of the deceased’s name, likeness, and image? > No.

2) Does the deceased’s family have a claim for invasion of privacy from D’s use of the decedent’s name, likeness, and image? > No.

Rationale: The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment, reasoning that it was anomalous to speak of the privacy of a dead person, and P were not mentioned or referred to in any of the broadcasts. Further, appellants claims of unjust enrichment had no basis.

Concurrence: P’s right to privacy was invaded, but Illinois law does not allow for any claim in such a case.

Rule: The estate’s right to privacy is not invaded when they are not mentioned in a fictional portrayal of the decedent.

Case Integration:

Questions: 1)Presley decision was based in right to publicity, not privacy. If Maritote had been heard after 1987 and was based on a right to publicity, it may have succeeded.

2)Hardin – right to publicity as a common. Maritote treats Capone’s name as a common, preventing the family from stopping anyone from using his name or image. If all celebrity names were treated as a common, they would become valueless commodities. Similarly, if celebrity names were treated as an anticommon, the name could never be used and it would not survive time, and again be a valueless commodity. Both extremes result in tragedy.

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