In my last posting, I began discussing the book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. I noted that while I saw no copyright issues with respect to Julie Powell’s discussion of Julia Child’s recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I did see other rights issues.
The real rights issue with respect to Julie and Julia is right of publicity. Julia Child’s estate could have accused Powell and her publisher of using Julia Child’s name and persona to promote Powell’s book. Julia Childs name forms part of the book title. Also, there’s a book promotional trailer that includes Julia Child’s image. As an aside, I highly recommend viewing the trailer which you can find here. It is hysterical and very well-done.
While Child could have made some credible right of publicity arguments, who knows whether her argument would be successful in a court of law. Publicity rights are governed by state laws which differ significantly. And there is always a balancing test between an individual’s privacy rights and the First Amendment which does allow one to write an unauthorized biography about a public figure. Of course, from a business perspective, the Julie & Julia book could have invigorated interest in and purchases of Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
It’s unclear the extent to which the Estate of Julia Child did or did not bless Powell’s book. Since I listened to a downloadable audio version of Julie & Julia, I never saw the physical book so I don’t know if it included a disclaimer indicating that Julia Child did not endorse or support the book.
Columbia Pictures is now producing a movie version of Julie & Julia starring Amy Adams as Julie Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Movie studios tend to be even more vigilant than publishing houses when clearing rights. While you do not need permission to chronicle the life of a public figure, many producers like to obtain permission nevertheless as a method of minimizing the risks of privacy, defamation, right of publicity, and similar claims. Since Ms. Child is now deceased, her privacy rights cannot be violated and she cannot be defamed. Right of publicity can survive death and might be a potential issue depending on how the film uses Ms. Child’s name and face to promote the film.