If I make a movie with everybody's name who is famous, need I pay them?

Let’s say that I were to make a movie, and I want to make it about a guy that is searching for a date with Paris Hilton, or somebody like that. The whole story will revolve around his using famous names obsessively, kind of like the Seinfeld episodes where George keeps bringing up Ted Danson, or Jon Voight. Would I have to pay the stars? I would want to throw around facts from the papers, and include aspects of their personal lives which are public knowledge, also.

Do I get to keep my huge ticket sales gate, or need I share it with them? I may also want to reference some of their more famous movies continually, by name.


Short answer: No.

Longer answer: You can include real people in your movie or book, so long as you don’t say anything libelous (or, anything they can prove libelous – and the standards for a celebrity make it pretty hard to prove). But for any non-advertising use of their names or images, you don’t need to get permission (it’s different if you are doing an advertisement).

That’s it! I’m going to write a movie about Lindsey Lohan being a genius. I’ll write a serious, thought provoking movie… but everyone will laugh and want to see it to laugh.

I’m creative, but I don’t think I’m that creative…

You will notice the Seinfeld plots don’t revolve around the celebrity and that makes a difference. George buys Jon Voights car. But that is not the plot, it could be anyone’s car (except Liam Neeson :)).

So the writers aren’t really appropriating anything. If you can change the name of the person randomly and it won’t effect the plot you’re not using them.

Also you can’t copyright facts, so you can use them. OJ was charged with murder and was found not guilty. That’s a fact. So as long as I stick 100% to the facts, I am on safe water.

Part of the misunderstanding when topics like these come up is the fact people are so litigious. You can be wiped out in a lawsuit, even though you’re right. If you make a movie and pay for it, then spend the next ten in court fighting a lawsuit, by the time you win, your movie could have no meaning.

So it’s easier just to get the permission of a celebrity or famous person first. It eliminates any hassles before they arise.

Name dropping is fun but it can backfire. For instance on Night Court, Jude Harry Stone would constantly talk about Mel Torme. OK that’s funny and they don’t need his permission. But producers are likely to get it because, not only do the writers have a right to free speech but so does Mr Torme.

Supposing he didn’t like it, he could go around on talk shows saying how much Night Court sucks and how stupid it is. He has a right to his opinion and opinion is strongly protected by the 1st Amendment.

So a lot of times waivers are put in simply to prevent any trouble from coming up in the first place

Thank you all very much!


This was actually a lousy example of the OP’s premise, since Jon Voight was actually in the episode in question (remember, he bit Kramer), so presumably was compensated for his appearance.

Look at the Broadway musical: Avenue Q. One of the characters is Gary Coleman…not played by Gary Coleman. The play uses Coleman’s public persona as a character that is now relegated to being the superintendent in the apartment building they live in.

The real Coleman has publicly commented that he wished there was a lawyer that would take his case, but apparently no one will. The writers of the musical have said that before the play was produced they contacted Coleman and set up a lunch in NYC to talk about the character they were putting in their show…Coleman stood them up.

Avenue Q has been extremely successful.

OTOH, in one of those perpetual discussions of copyright litigation someone mentioned insurance. It was in the context of a documentary (sort of like Michael Moore stuff) so you would run across random music in the background, and they were also bringing up movies like “American Graffitti” chock full of a variety of previously released songs. The filmmaker mentioned that without an insurance policy against copyright violation, the distributor and the movie theatres won’t touch it. They can be sued too.

So a lot of documentaries using older material have trouble getting made and getting on the air. After all - who would own the rights to the jingle in a Dumont TV or radio commercial from 1956? Who now holds the right to that defunct radio show from 1948?

Until very recently (but before reading your post), I always thought Gary Coleman was played by Gary Coleman (no I haven’t seen the play either, but would love to!) And that might be part of what the real Gary Colemn is angry about,t hey might expect that he is in it, or that he is associated with it in some way.

Could it be litiginous, as they don’t stick to the facts? I mean, I don’t know all the facts about Gary Coleman’s personal life, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t the landlord of a building inhabited by muppets.