New book looks at celebrity rights

13 September 2017 | General News
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Assoc Prof Tan (far right) having a discussion with celebrities Mr Wu (left) and Ms Chan

Associate Professor David Tan, Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) at NUS Law, launched his new book The Commercial Appropriation of Fame on 8 September, together with guest celebrities Ms Kit Chan and Mr Allan Wu. The book examines the commercial exploitation of the celebrity personality and describes a pragmatic framework to further the understanding of the laws protecting the commercial value of a celebrity’s fame.

“David has blended theory and practice into something quite unique. He shows in his book that the theoretical constructs of cultural studies can in fact yield important insights to help develop laws that regulate commercial appropriation of fame,” said Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Law, in his welcome remarks at the book launch.

David has blended theory and practice into something quite unique. He shows in his book that the theoretical constructs of cultural studies can in fact yield important insights to help develop laws that regulate commercial appropriation of fame.

On his inspiration for the book, Assoc Prof Tan said that the friendships he had made with celebrities while working as a fashion and portrait photographer over the years got him started on the book, which took roughly eight years to complete. The book incorporates contemporary examples such as digital fandom, social media and fantasy video games, and serves as a useful guide to understanding the fame phenomenon and how the law in different countries regulate its myriad uses. It offers a comprehensive analysis of more than 400 legal cases in countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Singapore.  

Assoc Prof Tan explained, “The book shows that if one understands or appreciates the production, circulation and consumption of celebrity personality, and if it can be incorporated into a useful cultural frame, judges and practitioners can use it in their arguments.”

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The new book offers insights on the commercial exploitation of celebrities

In an interactive dialogue with special guests Ms Chan and Mr Wu, the celebrities shared their personal experiences with fame.  

When asked if the rise of social media gives celebrities greater control over their fame, Mr Wu, who has over 28,000 followers on his Instagram account, answered, “The thing about fame is that you never really control your career, you are always completely at the mercy of society and how they perceive you.”

Kit, who describes fame as a by-product of her career, acknowledged the importance of social media but still preferred to let her work speak for itself. “Fame is a currency, but it should never be the objective of our life’s work. We may appropriate it for a suitable end, but not be appropriated by it to no end,” she said.

The book launch was attended by NUS Pro-Chancellor and former Chief Justice of Singapore Mr Chan Sek Keong, Judge of Appeal Mr Chao Hick Tin and National Arts Council CEO Mrs Rosa Daniel, as well as intellectual property law academics, practitioners and students.

The book is available online at Cambridge University Press and Amazon, as well as at the NUS Co-op on campus. It is slated to launch in Hong Kong and Australia in the coming months.

See press release and media coverage.