Book Launch: The Commercial Appropriation of Fame

Associate Professor David Tan, Vice Dean (Academic Affairs), offers insights on commercial exploitation of celebrities in his new monograph

From left: Allan Wu, Associate Professor David Tan, Kit Chan and Professor Simon Chesterman (Dean of NUS Law)

On 8 September 2017, Singapore-based celebrities Kit Chan and Allan Wu joined Associate Professor David Tan, Vice Dean (Academic Affairs), to launch of his new book on celebrity image rights with an insightful discussion with the book’s author at 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 published by Cambridge University Press analyses the commercial exploitation of the celebrity personality in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore. In the book, Associate Professor 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.

Associate Professor David Tan addressing the audience at the Moot Court at NUS Law

Associate Professor 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 Kit Chan and Allan 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.”

Associate Professor David Tan chatting with Allan Wu and Kit Chan

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, Associate Professor 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. In addition is a well-known fashion and fine art photographer who has held exhibitions in association with Cartier and Versace in Singapore, and had previously photographed Kit Chan and Allan Wu for magazine covers and a Contact Singapore global advertising campaign.

The book launch was attended by guests such as former Chief Justice of Singapore and Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong ’61, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Senior Judge Tan Lee Meng ’72 and Chief Executive Officer of the 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 and on social media.

From left: Senior Judge Tan Lee Meng ’72, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Associate Professor Elizabeth Ng Siew Kuan, Deputy Chairwoman of the EW Barker Centre for Law & Business, Professor Simon Chesterman, Allan Wu, Kit Chan, Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong ’61, Associate Professor David Tan and Rosa Daniel, CEO of National Arts Council

From left: Bryan Lim, Associate Professor David Tan and Joshua Woo

The Commercial Appropriation of Fame is available online at Cambridge University Press and Amazon, as well as at Kinokuniya and 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 Cambridge University Press.

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