Target Corporation wins lawsuit over ownership of name and image of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks booking photo in Montgomery, Alabama (Image Source: Historical Image)
Rosa Parks booking photo in Montgomery, Alabama (Image Source: Historical Image)

The name of Rosa Parks is one that is known internationally and now the Target Corporation is making money off of it.. Parks famously was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a White man in segregated Montgomery, Alabama.  This act of civil disobedience resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the rise of Dr. Martin L. King Jr.  and the start of the Civil Rights movement.There is no doubt that Rosa Parks is a historical figure and this is why Target Corporation launched a series of books, movies and plaques depicting her life.

The non-profit group the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Developmentwhich owns the image and likeness of Rosa Parks, objected to Target’s actions and filed a right of publicity lawsuit.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a 15 page opinion that has ruled against the non-profit. At issue is a Michigan law that deals with the right of publicity versus the right of privacy. Since Parks lived in Michigan at the time of her death in 2005, the Michigan law applies.

In its ruling the court decided that Parks and the Civil Rights movement were “a matter of legitimate and important public interest.” Judge Robin Rosenbaum wrote for the court stating that Targets merchandise were “All bona fide works of nonfiction discussing Parks and her role… The institute has not articulated any argument as to why Michigan’s qualified privilege for matters of public concern would not apply to these works, in light of the conspicuous historical importance of Rosa Parks. Nor can we conceive of any. Michigan law does not make discussion of these topics of public concern contingent on paying a fee.” Judge Rosenbaum wrote for a panel that included Judge Julie Carnes and Senior Judge Joel Dubina.

The court determined that the First Amendment shields the Target Corporation against a legal action by the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. This upheld a previous ruling by the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Target will not have to pay the non-profit institute any royalty fees for the use of the image of Rosa Parks.

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