On June 13 2014 the Massachusetts Senate passed S 2022, beginning the process of joining 13 other states that prohibit companies from using celebrities' identities after they die. The bill amends Section 3A of Chapter 214 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and creates a post-mortem 'right of publicity' interest. The bill prohibits commercial use of the name, image and likeness of a 'personality' for 70 years after his or her death without written permission from either the personality or "persons who collectively own more than 50 per cent of the aspect of the personality's right of publicity that was commercially used". 'Personality' is defined as "an individual whose identity has commercial value". However, in order to garner the bill's protection the personality must be domiciled in Massachusetts as of the date of his or her death.

Championed by Massachusetts resident Bill Cosby and sponsored by Democratic State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, the bill continues the trend of states providing additional publicity rights after death (eg, California's protection of the rights of deceased soldiers who became famous because of their deaths). The bill – designed to control commercial exploitation of the benefits of the personality's name and image following death – is merely an extension of the protection afforded a personality during his or her lifetime. Of the states providing this safeguard, the Massachusetts bill ranks among the strongest protection by providing a 70-year period within which the statute applies, joining California (70 years), Indiana (100 years) and Tennessee (perpetual).

If the Massachusetts House of Representatives passes its version of the bill, Massachusetts will be one of only 14 states that provide a post-mortem right of publicity protection. The other states (in addition to those mentioned above) are Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

For further information on this topic please contact Keri S Bruce at Reed Smith LLP by telephone (+1 212 521 5400), fax (+1 212 521 5450) or email (kbruce@reedsmith.com). The Reed Smith website can be accessed at www.reedsmith.com.