A measure to protect the names and likenesses of dead celebrities from unauthorized use is currently being pushed by New York legislators and a group of celebrities, their families and estates.
The bill would make it illegal for anyone to use the name, portrait, voice, signature or picture of the deceased for advertising or trade without first obtaining the written consent of that person’s successors.
It also gives the estates of deceased celebrities the ability to seek legal recourse and damages from firms or corporations that have knowingly violated the law.
Yoko Ono, Al Pacino, Janie Hendrix (sister of Jimi Hendrix) and Liza Minnelli have all voiced support for the bill, which would create and extend a "post mortem right of publicity" up to 70 years after a celebrity’s death.
Hendrix told the New York Daily News that her brother’s image is being used to sell all sorts of merchandise on the streets of New York City without the approval of his estate.
"When you create an image you have and make it famous, and it becomes part of your legacy, why can’t it be part of your family’s?" she asked. "Because he was a New York resident when he died at the age of 27, his rights died when he died."
Ono echoed Hendrix’s sentiments in a letter supporting the measure.
"New Yorkers are left at a significant disadvantage in managing the ongoing legacy of our friends, loved ones and colleagues," she wrote.
State Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it will ensure that the deceased will not be exploited through unscrupulous advertising and unauthorized sales, although the legitimate use of names and images will still be protected.
"Institutions and charities stand to lose if we allow this loophole to remain unclosed," Weinstein said. "We need to protect the dignity and wishes of those who have given us their creative spirit during their lifetime. This legislation preserves all inherent and explicit artistic rights to make unauthorized biographies, documentaries or other legitimate First Amendment-protected activities, but will ensure that a celebrity’s hard earned, unique character is protected from a wide range of commercial exploitation."
The measure was advanced in the State Assembly June 12th and a Senate version is also being considered.