No Doubt enjoyed mainstream success during the 90s with hits like “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl.” Last week, the band announced its plans to reunite and release an album this September. The same day that the band shared the news of their planned comeback, a judge gave permission for the band’s lawsuit against video game maker Activision to be heard by a jury. “Hella Good” day for No Doubt.
The video game created by Activision, Band Hero, features the band members’ likenesses as video game characters. Players of this video game can select a character that is modeled after a No Doubt band member’s likeness and make the character sing a song selected by the player. No Doubt did allow Activision to use of the likeness its band members, but alleges that Activision overstepped the terms of this contractual agreement.
Supposedly, No Doubt had agreed to allow the use of its band members’ likenesses in 3 songs, but the video game allows the appearance of the likenesses in about 60 songs. Additionally, the video game allows the No Doubt characters to sing songs besides those that No Doubt previously approved of, which are songs that No Doubt sang or performed in real life.
The Los Angeles Times reported that No Doubt feels that the video game “transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act” and “the Character Manipulation Feature results in an unauthorized performance by the Gwen Stefani avatar in a male voice boasting about having sex with prostitutes.”
This lawsuit includes a right of publicity claim, but is more complicated than a mere unauthorized use of a celebrity’s likeness.
No Doubt did authorize Activision to use each band members’ likeness in the video game, but now challenges how the video game uses and manipulates a band member’s likeness. While No Doubt will likely emphasize that it did not agree for the likenesses to be used in such ways, Activision may argue that some flexibility is needed to make the video game functional. Although the specifics of the contract between No Doubt and Activision are unclear, this cases raises questions about what the scope of permitted uses should be when a celebrity authorizes use of his/her likeness for a video game character.