Where does the First Amendment fall when it comes to unofficial biographical comics of celebrities? We may be about to find out, as indie publisher Bluewater Productions has been served cease and desist notices on behalf of both Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber, objecting to unauthorized uses of their likenesses as part of their Fame biography comic series.
Kenneth Feinswog, attorney to both Gaga and Beiber, likens Bluewater’s comics to bootleg posters or albums, arguing that, as such, the comics are open to challenges on the grounds of trademark and intellectual property and likeness rights. Unsurprisingly, Bluewater disagrees, issuing a statement that implies that the lawsuit had more to do with sour grapes than IP:
These are not-poster books and as it was explained to the licensing lawyer, Kenneth Feinswog, it tells the story of [Bieber's] life in 22 pages. We offered to send him a copy of the book before it went to print. We have been offered deals with poster books, sticker books and we had to turn them down because we know we do not have the rights to that. But doing an unauthorized biography we are in full within our rights… It feels like they are doing this because our comic book got the same amount of press as their book, ‘Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever.’ Both are being released the same month, as well as four other Bieber books. We chose [to publish a book about] Justin Bieber because of how he is changing the music industry. This was a kid that posted his songs on YouTube to share with his family and became a superstar from that. This is a great story to inspire kids.
Well, this may be a great story to inspire lawyers. It’ll be interesting to see how far Feinswog is willing to push this, in that similar cases in the past have ended with the publishers victorious. Of course, Bluewater has a shady past when it comes to payment for its creators, so maybe this is merely some odd form of publishing karma.
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