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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Target Free to Sell Books & Plaques on Rosa Parks

(CN) - The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute cannot stop Target from using Rosa Parks' name and image on civil rights-themed merchandise, the 11th Circuit ruled.

For years, Target Corporation has sold a number of books about famous civil rights leader Rosa Parks, including her autobiography and a television movie called "The Rosa Parks Story."

Target also sells a plaque entitled "Civil Rights" that shows Parks' picture alongside that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It shows a photo of the bus Parks was riding when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, and a Parks quote: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically ... I was not old ... I was forty two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Park's arrest prompted 42,000 black residents of Montgomery, Ala., to boycott the city's buses until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation of the buses.

"Parks's refusal to cede ground in the face of continued injustice has made her among the most revered heroines of our national story; her role in American history cannot be over-emphasized," Judge Robin Rosenbaum wrote for a three-judge panel.

Congress has recognized Parks as the "first lady of civil rights" whose protest on the bus "ignited the most significant social movement in the history of the United States," the opinion states.

None of the Parks items sold at Target say "Target" or are otherwise affiliated with the store.

But Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, founded by Parks in honor of her late husband, sued the retailer in 2013 for $20 million, claiming it misappropriated Parks' name and image for its own profit.

The Institute owns all of Parks' publicity rights.

The 11th Circuit ruled Monday that the public interest surrounding Parks as a historic figure outweighs the privacy rights that guard against the commercial appropriation of a person's likeness without their consent.

"The Institute has not articulated any argument as to why Michigan's qualified privilege for matters of public concern would not apply to these works [sold at Target], in light of the conspicuous historical importance of Rosa Parks. Nor can we conceive of any," Rosenbaum wrote.

Michigan law also gives publishers a qualified privilege to report on matters in the public interest, according to the ruling.

"And it is in the general public interest to relentlessly preserve, spotlight, and recount the story of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement - even when that interest allegedly conflicts with an individual right of publicity," the 15-page opinion states.

Sharing the history of the civil rights movement, in which Parks was undoubtedly a major figure, is a matter "quintessentially embraced and protected by Michigan's qualified privilege," Rosenbaum added.

"Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a discussion of the Civil Rights Movement without reference to Parks and her role in it. And Michigan law does not make discussion of these topics of public concern contingent on paying a fee," the judge wrote. "As a result, all six books, the movie, and the plaque find protection in Michigan's qualified privilege protecting matters of public interest."

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