Bogus "Right of Publicity" in Arizona Law and T Shirt Art

It's odd how we complain that activist judges make up new rights out of nowhere, but when the politics are right, as in Arizona recently, all of the state legislators of both parties and the governor have no problems with a law that creates, out of nowhere, a brand new "right of publicity" applicable to soldiers only.

This law is a sham. It purports to grant such a right, in order to protect soldiers from use of their names or images without their prior permission. But it has exceptions that for most intents and purposes make it ridiculously irrelevant. The law does not apply to newspapers, movies, videos, TV, radio, plays, books, magazines, audio-visual productions, "a single and original work of fine art", and more. So, what's left for this seemingly compassionate new law to protect our soldiers from? Can you think of anything? How about T shirts! Yes, protect our soldiers from nasty T shirts. And coffee mugs? Yes protect us from coffee mugs and T shirts and …what else?

Why, among their exceptions, do they include the curious phrase "a single and original work of fine art"? Why didn't they just say "art"? My guess is they were afraid the T shirt guy, Dan Frazier, might claim his T shirts are art. One criterion for good art is that it shakes people up, gets a strong reaction. Thus by this criterion, Dan Frazier's T shirts are art. They got enough reaction that the whole legislature and governor of the great state of Arizona made a law specifically to censor his creations! Besides that, Dan Frazier's T shirts --- which have the words "Bush Lied" and "They Died" over a background of names of US soldiers killed in Iraq --- make a strong, terse, and poignant connection between foolish and lying political leaders and the consequences of their acts, namely, the tragic unnecessary deaths of thousands of our soldiers.

The legislators may or may not have realized that by including the phrase "a single and original work of fine art" instead of just "art", they were also outlawing art that by its nature comes in multiple copies such as the digital paintings I make.

And does anybody really think the Arizona legislature and governor had our soldiers' best interests in their hearts when they made this half-assed law? Or did they unanimously pass it to make political points because they knew that everybody supports our soldiers, because they know we all sympathize with the crap soldiers have to live with every day --- the hard work in dangerous situations, the possibility of injury and death, and much more. Who could be against cutting soldiers a little slack, they thought. But all they gave them was "protection" from one perceptive T shirt maker who is expressing his own personal, political, artistic, free speech opinion that this war was justified by our leaders based on lies. And "protection" from obscure artists like me. This law does not stop individuals and corporations who own big media such as newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, book and magazine publishing, movies, videos, video games, audio-visual productions, and more from doing anything they want with soldiers' names or likenesses without any permission from anyone.

Our soldiers, living as well as dead, have been and are being used by the legislature and the governor of Arizona. We too, the citizens of Arizona, are being used by these politicians who think they can pass crappy, meaningless, unconstitutional laws, for no substantive reasons, except to get our votes. Shame! Shame! Shame on all of them!

Joe Rebholz

11 SEP 2007


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