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Right of pulbicity case brief - Abdul Jabaar

Posted by Steve Vondran | Dec 17, 2022

Attorney Steve® IP case briefs - Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corp. United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 85 F.3d 407 (1996) 

Watch Attorney Steve® explain First Amendment Free Speech and exceptions


Facts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a professional basketball player, sued General Motors Corp. (GM) for using his likeness in an advertisement without his permission. The advertisement ran in various publications and depicted a GM car with Abdul-Jabbar's face and signature on the side of the car. Abdul-Jabbar claimed that GM had violated his right of publicity under California law. GM moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was protected by the First Amendment.

Issue: Whether GM's use of Abdul-Jabbar's likeness in an advertisement is protected by the First Amendment.


Holding: No. The Ninth Circuit held that GM's use of Abdul-Jabbar's likeness in an advertisement was not protected by the First Amendment because it was not related to any protected speech or expression. The court reasoned that such use of an individual's likeness was not necessary to convey any message or idea and, therefore, was not protected by the First Amendment.

Rationale: The court noted that the First Amendment protects speech and expression, not commercial use of an individual's likeness. The court also noted that the advertisement was not related to any protected speech or expression, and thus, GM's use of Abdul-Jabbar's likeness was not protected by the First Amendment. The court concluded that Abdul-Jabbar's right of publicity was violated when GM used his likeness in the advertisement without his permission.

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Steve Vondran

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