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New book on celebrity image rights by NUS Law don launched by celebrities Kit Chan and Allan Wu

08 September 2017 | EducationResearch
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Associate Professor David Tan offers insights on commercial exploitation of celebrities in his new work

Singapore-based celebrities Kit Chan and Allan Wu today marked the launch of a new book on celebrity image rights with an insightful discussion with the book’s author, Associate Professor David Tan from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law). The launch of The Commercial Appropriation of Fame was organised by the EW Barker Centre for Law & Business at NUS Law.

The Commercial Appropriation of Fame by Assoc Prof Tan analyses the commercial exploitation of the celebrity personality in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore. In the book, Assoc Prof Tan demonstrates how an appreciation of the production, circulation and consumption of fame can be incorporated into a pragmatic framework to further the understanding of the laws protecting the commercial value of the celebrity personality. Using contemporary examples such as digital fandom, social media and fantasy video games, he examines how present challenges for the law may be addressed using this cultural framework, and how an understanding of the cultural phenomenon of the contemporary celebrity may better shape the development of these laws.

Assoc Prof Tan, who has pioneered courses in Freedom of Speech and Entertainment Law at NUS Law, said, “Movie stars, sporting heroes and social media influencers are paid handsome sums of money today to endorse products. At the same time, there is a gamut of parody and satirical merchandise based on our familiarity with these cultural icons. This book is a useful guide to understanding the fame phenomenon and how the law in different countries regulate all these myriad uses.”

He shared that he had sent chapters of the book to Ms Chan and Mr Wu to read before the event, so that they would be familiar with some of the cultural concepts and legal jargon. He said, “Although I have known both Kit and Allan for almost 20 years, I feel a little guilty treating them like my law students and assigning them homework to do.” 

Sharing her perspective and experience in the use of celebrity images in Singapore and other countries, Ms Chan said, “It’s fascinating and almost uncanny to view David Tan’s methodical dissection of the ‘celebrity-commodity’ through his academic lens. It’s revelatory and a sobering reminder to me that the alter-ego I choose to ban from private conversations and thoughts is best left locked in the studio or the performance space – where it rightly belongs – when I go home after a hard day’s work. Fame is a currency, but should never be the objective of our life’s work. In this way, we may appropriate it for a suitable end, and not be appropriated by it to no end.”

The new book has also garnered advance praise ahead of its launch from law professors at Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley, Melbourne and New York University (NYU). 

Professor Rebecca Tushnet from Harvard Law School said, “David Tan’s extensive exploration of the ways in which cultural studies understandings of celebrity correspond to developments in right of publicity law will enrich the legal literature.”

NYU Professor Barton Beebe said, “Though theoretically sophisticated, (David) Tan’s critique is emphatically practical. The book is an important new resource that will be required reading for anyone interested in how the law regulates the commercial – and political – exploitation of fame.”

Named the Outstanding Young Person of Singapore in 1998 by the Junior Chamber International Singapore, Assoc Prof Tan, who is the Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) at NUS Law, conducts research on copyright, trademarks, personality rights, freedom of expression and tort law, and his articles have been cited by Singapore’s highest appellate court. His insights on these topics have also appeared in a wide range of journals that include Yale Journal of International Law, Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law and Singapore Academy of Law Journal. Please refer to the Annex for a brief biography on Assoc Prof Tan.

The book launch held earlier today was attended by guests such as former Chief Justice of Singapore Chan Sek Keong, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore National Arts Council Rosa Daniel. Other participants included intellectual property law academics, practitioners and students who are interested in celebrity endorsement contracts and the use of the celebrity image in advertising, merchandising, fantasy video games and on social media. 

The Commercial Appropriation of Fame is available online at Cambridge University Press and Amazon, as well as at the NUS Co-op on campus. Over the next few months, the book will also be launched in Hong Kong and Australia.

More information about the new book is available at: 

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