Sunday Mailbag- Sued by Celebrity?

July 16th, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Have you ever been sued or coerced to remove your caricature drawings from your books or blog because the subject did not like his/her drawing to be publicly displayed even if it was not a commissioned work? How did you deal with it?

A: I’ve never been sued but once I (or rather one of the artists who was drawing at my booth at the Mall of America) was told by a celebrity to remove his caricature from the display at one of my booths. This happened a long time ago, so some of the details are a little hazy but basically he demanded its instant removal. I got a panicky phone call from the artist, who told me this celebrity was saying we were “using his client’s image to sell our product without his permission or compensation”, and again demanded its immediate removal.

I said that the caricature on the wall was being displayed under the auspices of “fair use”. It was displayed as a means of demonstrating the skill of the work that was being done at our caricature booth. The only way for us to demonstrate that skill was to do caricatures of people others would recognize so they saw we could capture a likeness in caricature… that’s “fair use”. The caricature was not being sold nor given away, so he could not claim we were damaging his right of publicity by creating a product that he could have marketed and sold himself. There were examples of at least 20 other celebrities on the same display, so he could not claim his caricature was driving the sales of our product any more than the other celebrities displayed could. I also pointed out the caricature was very clearly making fun of him (the drawing had a gag about the mindlessness of the action films this person starred in) and that was a first amendment issue since it was an original piece of artwork. Finally, I pointed out that in no way was it being inferred that he was endorsing or promoting our product directly, so we were not infringing on his endorsement/advertising value. I then told him the drawing would not be removed unless he took me to court to let a judge hear these arguments and decide. I was told he would be taking my card and his lawyer would be in touch about a lawsuit. The artist took the phone and told me they were walking away.

That celerity was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He never came back.

He nor any other celebrity would win that case, nor ones where they demanded the removal of their caricature from my blog or in a book. As long as the blog or book was not solely about THEM, their caricature becomes one of a collection of pieces of art that are about the demonstration and enjoyment of the art of caricature, and that is fair use. Especially when the caricatures are part of a book, publication or website. An artist might get into trouble if they were selling or even giving away reproductions of caricatures of a celebrity, as that could be proven to infringe on a celebrity’s right of publicity, but using a celebrity as a subject to show a caricature artist’s skills is so clearly fair use I would be surprised if any celebrity went to court over it.

Thanks to F.H. Lee from Singapore for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Tom Richmond says:

    For the record here I know I did not speak directly to Ahnuld (I’d certainly have remembered that). I told someone all those things but can’t remember if it was the artist at the booth, or some member of Ahnuld’s entourage. I know the drawing did not come down and I never heard from them again.

  2. Richard Buff says:

    I own an original Tom Richmond Arnold caricature. I have no point to make, I just wanted to brag 🙂

  3. Jared Rasmussen says:

    I know this has been discussed previously, but I’m curious how the current President feels about MAD and this topic, since the publication is increasingly about him and could be argued that MAD is profiting from his image. As a politician, MAD’s clearly protected by the 1st Amendment, but President Trump’s brand exists beyond his political career, not to mention how overly litigious he can be…

    • Tom Richmond says:

      I would say not even Trump is dumb enough to completely take on Freedom of Speech by trying to sue a 65 year old institution of political and social satire for mocking him, but he keeps on surprising me.

  4. Bill Morrison says:

    I have been caricatured by Tom Richmond on multiple occasions, and I can affirm that it is a badge of honor! Any celebrity should be thrilled to have their comedic portrait rendered by such a master, no matter how said portrait is used!

  5. Lash LeRoux says:

    Actually, I am offended that I have NOT been caricatured by Tom Richmond. So, there.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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