Bobby Brown is suing Showtime Networks, BBC, and the producers of Whitney Houston’s documentary Can I Be Me? for misappropriation of publicity rights, among other causes of action, for using footage of Brown, and their daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown (BKB). Bobby Brown’s suit, filed in a federal court in New York, is seeking an injunction as well as $2 million in damages.
Brown Claims Footage Was Misappropriated
Misappropriation of publicity rights is a cause of action for using someone else’s name, picture, or likeness, without their consent for an exploitative purpose. Brown claims there is about 30 minutes of footage in the film to which Brown never gave his consent to include. Most of this footage is over fifteen years old, and was filmed while Houston and Brown were still married. Brown contends that the filmmakers never tried to get his consent for this footage, yet not only did they use the footage, but in the credits of the film, they make it appear as though Brown’s company, Brownhouse Entertainment, did give consent. Brown claims this is utterly false.
But Was There a First Amendment Defense
Free Speech, as protected by the First Amendment, often trumps the right of publicity when certain types of speech or expression are at issue. If the expression is artistic, such as in film, or is “newsworthy,” the First Amendment protections will bar a suit based on the right of publicity. Not only was this an artistic expression, but given the popularity of Houston and Brown, and the mystery surrounding her death, the footage might well be considered newsworthy. Houston died of a drug overdose in 2012, and their daughter, BKB, died just three years later at the age of 22.
This isn’t Brown’s first publicity rights lawsuit. He previously filed one over a television documentary concerning BKB, where he also alleged “deformity and untrue depictions” of his life, most notable the implication he was physically abusive. The judge ruled against Brown in that case.