Americans have long been obsessed with their images—their looks, public personas, and the impressions they make. This preoccupation has left its mark on the law. The twentieth century saw the creation of laws that protect your right to control your public image, to defend your image, and to feel good about your image and public presentation of self. These include the legal actions against invasion of privacy, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. With these laws came the phenomenon of "personal image litigation"—individuals suing to vindicate their image rights.
Laws of Image tells the story of how Americans came to use the law to protect and manage their images, feelings, and reputations. In this social, cultural, and legal history, Samantha Barbas ties the development of personal image law to the self-consciousness and image-consciousness that has become endemic in our media-saturated culture of celebrity and consumerism, where people see their identities as intertwined with their public images. The laws of image are the expression of a people who have become so publicity-conscious and self-focused that they believe they have a right to control their images—to manage and spin them like actors, politicians, and rock stars.
About the authors
Samantha Barbas is Associate Professor of Law at SUNY Buffalo Law School. She is the author of two previous books: Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001) and The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (2005).
"Beautifully written and powerfully argued, Laws of Image shows us how the law develops through culture, leaving us with a rich sense of the struggle that remains as digital culture renders the image as common as the bit. This is not a story with a known ending—Samantha Barbas charts the very origin of an increasingly important legal protection, and the ongoing battle to counter a technology that knows no limits."
—Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School
"Barbas's book offers a lucid, wide-ranging, and accessible cultural and legal history of a time when privacy mattered, when the law helped ordinary individuals control their images, and when courts considered ratifying a right to be protected from uses others might make of an image. Laws of Image provides readers with an extraordinary voyage to a past that seems almost impossibly quaint and distant."
—Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University
"In a series of compelling stories of court cases and their social contexts, Samantha Barbas illuminates how evolving ideas about self-image and privacy transformed tort law and the freedom of speech. Laws of Image is an artful combination of cultural and legal history."
—Stuart Banner, UCLA Law School
"When at its best Barbas's writing and organization represents the best in legal history: clear and straightforward prose with rich detail and legal precision that shows where legal concepts came from, how they evolved, and the role they played in people's lives."
—Patrick C. File, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
"Dr. Samantha Barbas's book, Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America, makes an original, important, and engaging contribution to the history of the privacy law in the United StatesGiven that Laws of Image spans more than 100 years of legal and cultural developments, it is remarkable how readable this book is: It is well-written, and the flow and pacing are excellent."
—Lyrissa B. Lidsky, JOTWELL
"In Laws of Image Samantha Barbas provides an accessible, highly readable cultural and legal history of privacy and the balance struck among competing interests over more than a century of litigation and legislation. Readers with little knowledge of the legal history of privacy will learn of the changing legal protections for the use of an individual's image and the cultural influences that shaped the law. More knowledgeable readers will gain new insights about the law and a richer understanding of the cultural context that shapes privacy law."
—Tim Gleason, Journal of American History