New York Legislature pulls “right of publicity” bill

New Rights

Facing vocal opposition from a host of parties, the New York assemblyman sponsoring A08155, the so-called right of publicity bill, pulled it out of process.

The bill proposed to establish a new right of publicity, defining “an individual’s name, voice, signature and likeness [as] the personal property of the individual [that] is freely transferable and descendible.” Sponsored by State Assemblyman Joe Morelle (and co-sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Diane Savino), the bill would guarantee an individual’s control over his or her own image.

It would also extend those rights to the estate of a deceased person, which would become entitled to a portion of the sales proceeds of items that portray that person’s image. This right would extend for 40 years after a person’s death and establish registries of estate-controlled publicity rights to make enforcement possible.

Public Pressure

Similar bills have been floated in Albany in the past, but none has become law.

The players lining up in favor of the bill were the Screen Actors Guild, the estate of Jimi Hendrix and 21st Century Fox. Opposing the bill were publishers, broadcasters and other media organizations representing those who routinely use images of the deceased in artistic or commercial endeavors. The bill was also opposed by legal experts who claimed that it would have unseated decades of New York state case law built around an already-recognized right to privacy. Others objected to what they claimed were the bill’s negative First Amendment implications, including weakening protections for use of likenesses in news reporting and commentary.

Takeaway

Many commentators believe that another right of publicity bill is likely to be floated in the New York Legislature soon. Advertisers looking to use a celebrities’ name, image, or voice in advertising will need to plan for how they will handle a stark change in publicity law.