Entertainment Law Reporter
July 2006 Volume 28 Number 2

Right of publicity claim by former Caesars employee, seeking damages for company’s continued use of ads featuring employee portraying fictional character “Loose Slot Louie,” is preempted by federal Copyright Act

Crisper Stanford has failed in his bid to get a federal court to remand his right of publicity claim back to Tennessee state court, where Stanford originally filed it against his former employer Caesars Entertainment. In his lawsuit, Stanford contends that Caesars violated his right of publicity – a right given to him by Tennessee state law – because it has continued to use ads that feature him in the role of “Loose Slot Louie,” without his consent.

Caesars removed the case to federal court on the grounds that Stanford’s state law claims are preempted by the federal Copyright Act. Stanford asked the federal court to send the case back to state court. But federal District Judge Jon McCalla has refused to do so.

Earlier decisions in other cases have ruled that right of publicity claims are not preempted by federal copyright law. But Judge McCalla agreed with Caesars that those decisions were distinguishable.

The judge said that Stanford does not claim that Caesars is exploiting his “very identity or persona . . . as a human being.” Instead, said the judge, Caesars is using Stanford’s “dramatic portrayal of a fictional character,” and that character is featured in a copyright-protected advertisement. That “makes his case unlike those in which courts have found that federal copyright law does not preempt a state-law right of publicity,” the judge concluded.

Though this decision did not result in the dismissal of Stanford’s lawsuit – it simply denied his motion to remand the case to state court – federal preemption also would be grounds for dismissing it entirely. And that is what is likely to happen to it next, at least at the District Court level.

Stanford v. Caesars Entertainment, Inc., 430 F.Supp.2d 749, 2006 WL 1214960, 2006 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 26959  (W.D.Tenn. 2006)