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What You Need to Know

If you're using another person’s image or likeness in your art, you're safest if he or she is a public figure. 

Politicians, performers, and other celebrities can generally be depicted in art, but if the person is not well known, be cautious: you may need to get their permission first.  Even politicians and celebrities, however, may be able to make claims based on a right of publicity.

If your art is going to be used for a commercial purpose, you'll need permission from the individuals featured in it.

Be sure that if your art is going to be used to advertise or sell something, you have contracts or agreements with any individual featured in the art for every possible use of their likeness.  Approval for the use of an individual’s image in a video is not the same as a contract for the use of his image in a photo advertisement.  An artist must get an individual’s approval for each form of presentation.

Find out who owns the rights to the images you use. 

While a person has the right to her own likeness, another artist might own the right to the specific image or photograph that you want to use.  For more on this particular issue, see our discussion of sampling and appropriation.  Before you selling any merchandise with the name, image, or likeness of any public figure, be sure you understand whether you need their consent.  Every state has different laws and some might be very confusing, so if you have any questions, be sure to speak with a lawyer that specializes in privacy rights for that state.