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Protecting your Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL)

In the emerging digital era and recent modifications to the NCAA NIL regulations, individuals should be increasingly more cognizant of the significance and value of safeguarding their personal identity. Name, image, and likeness are valuable assets that set public figures, athletes, and even everyday people who have achieved a certain level of notoriety apart and make them more recognizable.


Rights of Publicity Protection

Rights of publicity refers to the legal protection granted to individuals to control the commercial use of their name, image, likeness, and other personal attributes. This includes activities like using their identity for endorsements, merchandise, and advertising. These rights are primarily governed by state laws in the United States, as there is no federal statute that uniformly regulates rights of publicity. The scope of the right of publicity varies from state to state and varies by jurisdiction, with some states offering more broad protection and others offering narrow protection. In Washington state this is governed by RCW 63.60.010.

Some benefits of rights of publicity include commercial control and compensation for unauthorized use. Commercial control grants individuals the power to control how their identity is used commercially and prevents others from using their name, image or likeness without consent. Compensation for unauthorized use grants individuals’ protection and entitlement to compensation for damage to their reputations, if someone infringes on their right to publicity.


Trademark Protection

Traditionally, trademarks are associated with businesses and products that safeguard brands, logos or other identifiers. However, trademarks can extend to protect personal attributes like an individual’s name, image, and likeness which establish exclusive rights to control and prevent unauthorized use or exploitation of their identity. Trademark protection can be obtained at the state or national/international level. State trademarks are protected within the specific state where the registration is filed and granted, limiting the scope of coverage and protection. A national registered trademark provides broader protection across the country, which can be filed and registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In order to file for a name or likeness mark of a living individual, you will need to have the written consent of that person. See USPTO. This is true for full names as in, Dwayne John or Michael Douglas, as well as first names, Beyonce, last names, Trump. But also applies to pseudonyms such as Robert Galbraith, and stage names, like Lady Gaga.

Some benefits of registering a trademark for an individual’s personal identity include establishing ownership and protection against infringement. Registering a trademark for your name, image, and likeness ensures the exclusive right to control their commercial use, while providing clear evidence of ownership. In the case of a party infringing or unauthorized use of an individual’s name, image, or likeness, they are able to take legal action to enforce their rights and seek remedies for damages.

It should be noted that this blog is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This post was written by Shreya Shah, Apex Law Group’s law clerk. This article, or contacting Apex, does not in any way form an attorney-client relationship. Speak to a licensed attorney if you need help or advice navigating the legal issues surrounding name, image, and likeness protections. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please contact us at or visit our blog.

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