After Kanye West’s “Famous” music video took the internet by storm, it seems as though the musician was bracing for lawsuits. As of yet, nobody has tried to sue him over the controversial video. He even wrote on Twitter “Can somebody sue me already #I’llwait”, though the tweet has since been deleted.
But can any of the celebrities featured in the video by the use of wax replicas actually sue Yeezy?
Rolling Stone explored this question, using Taylor Swift as an example.
“Short answer: Of course [Swift] can. The real question is whether it’s worth the effort. Asking “Can I sue?” when you really mean “Can I win a lawsuit?” is kind of like asking “Can I jump off a building?” when what you really want to know is “Can I fly?” If a claim has a non-frivolous basis in law, you can certainly bring a lawsuit, and anyone from Anna Wintour to Ray J could put a team of lawyers to work on the papers today”.
Most likely the case would be filed in California, where many celebrities live and where it is a good state to live in if you are a celebrity. The state has laws designed to guard a celebrity’s financial interests and one that creates a special financial interest for celebs. Called the Right of Publicity statute, it stops someone from using someone’s name or likeness to sell a commercial product without that person’s consent.
Rolling Stone explains:
“The ‘Famous’ video deliberately uses a set of celebrity likenesses — many, we can assume, without consent. But the ‘Famous’ video isn’t an ad, even if its Tidal-exclusive status does serve the commercial purpose of attempting to lure subscribers to the streaming service. It’s what courts call an ‘expressive work’ — you know, ‘art’ — and not even California’s strict Right of Publicity statute can prevent artistic uses of a celebrity image. Even without West holding forth about how his video is ‘a comment on fame,’ a music video is a commonly accepted art form, and the law itself lists ‘audiovisual work’ among the creative uses that it permits”.
Furthermore, one of the celebrities featured in “Famous” could attempt to sue for defamation, but it’s even more difficult for celebrities to succeed at that than it is for non-famous people. A celebrity could also serve Kanye with a cease and desist letter, but an actual lawsuit would most likely be thrown out.
In other words, one of the featured celebrities could file a lawsuit, but the chances of it going anywhere are slim to none. However, Trump might go through with it, since he has already threatened legal action against an artist who painted him with a tiny penis. I’ll let Rolling Stone so amusingly puts it:
“Trump v. West could be a precedent-setting battle between unstoppable arrogance and immovable ego. As we’ve learned in 2016, the presumptive Republican nominee is clearly a man who never asks whether a stupid action is worth the effort”.