I've learned that it's legal to write about famous people without their permission as long as the use is "expressive" rather than advertising. However, I believe it's illegal to use pictures of famous people without their permission. My understanding is that this applies not just to book covers but to the content.

However, would it be legal if the picture was in the form of a political cartoon or satire? For example, imagine writing about a celebrity who was renowned for his connections to organized crime and corrupt politicians. So you create a cartoonish picture showing him standing between some famous gangster and Satan.

EDIT: This hypothetical book would be published in the U.S. and it would be sold commercially.

  • Well, someone might get you into trouble if he doesn't like being depicted with that celebrity and a famous gangster Nov 1, 2023 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


Your understanding of publicity rights is more expensive than the law actually provides. Generally speaking, this right, where it exists at all, applies only to commercial use of the person's picture or other aspects of their identity (and the existence at all of the right, as well as its scope, differs from one state to another). See generally, this Law.SE answer.

Without retreading this entire area of the law, a political cartoon or satire is not barred by a person's publicity rights in the United States, at least. This kind of expression is at the core of what the U.S. First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects.

  • Ah, I forgot about the magic word "commercial." I edited my question accordingly. However, it sounds like you're using the word "commercial" in the sense that I can freely include cartoons in books that are SOLD commercially. Moreover, it sounds like I can even include pictures taken from the public domain, Creative Commons, or stock image sites between the covers of books that are sold for a price. Is this correct?
    – Paredon
    Oct 31, 2023 at 22:28

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