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Don't unknowingly violate the right of publicity

Businesses, especially small businesses, needlessly risk involvement in expensive litigation by unknowingly violating the Right of Publicity Act. This act can be a snare to business owners, who may use an aspect of an individual's identity for commercial purposes.

Businesses put themselves at risk when they use a name, likeness, distinctive voice, style, role, nickname or signature of an individual without his or her consent for commercial purposes.

A photograph taken of a restaurant featuring one customer who did not sign a consent form carries a minimum of $1,000 in damages in Illinois. Even a non-celebrity is entitled to the statutory minimum if his or her identity is used for commercial purposes without consent.

The business at risk may also be required to pay attorney's fees as well as punitive damages in any amount a court deems necessary to deter willful acts of infringement. Further, Illinois extends an individual's right of publicity to that individual's heirs for up to 50 years after the individual's death.

Exceptions to the Right of Publicity Act include using one's identity for non-commercial purposes, identifying an individual truthfully as the author of a work, portraying, describing or impersonating an individual in live performance or other literary or artistic manner, and displaying professional photography unless the photographer is otherwise notified of objection.

To avoid skirmishes with rights of publicity, it is essential for business owners to take proper precautions while advertising. Business owners should obtain a signature on a release form similar to the sample one at left. A more specialized form may be required in certain cases. For more information, visit


I, the undersigned, hereby authorize COMPANY, its agents, employees, licensees, and assigns, to publicly use or hold out my real name, nicknames, signature, photographs, images, likeness, voice, or other attribute that serves to identify me, on or in connection with the offering for sale or sale of a product, merchandise, goods, or services, for purposes of advertising or promoting products, merchandise, goods, or services, and for the purpose of fundraising.

Signed: ____________________________

Alan Singleton is a corporate and intellectual property law attorney based in downtown Champaign. He can be reached at (217) 352-3900 or