The Bay State’s famous residents will not need to worry about their visages or unique mannerisms being improperly used in advertisements once they are no longer around to protect their reputations if legislation filed by state Senator Stanley Rosenberg becomes law.
The bill would allow personalities to transfer their “right of publicity” in a will, so heirs would have some control over the use of their image for several decades after their deaths.
“We want celebrities who live in Massachusetts to maintain their residence in Massachusetts and continue to be our citizens and our neighbors,” Rosenberg, a Democrat of Amherst, said shortly after his bill passed the Senate on a voice vote Thursday. “And a number of other states have now updated their laws to help protect people’s rights after they pass away with regard to the ownership of their likeness, their voice, their character, etcetera. We just wanted to be sure that we’re state of the art.”
The bill has been sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means. With informal sessions scheduled for the rest of the year, the legislation could pass as long as all lawmakers attending such sessions are OK with advancing it.
Currently, anyone who wants to use the portrait or picture of a person for use in advertising or “purposes of trade” must have written consent from the person whose likeness is being used, according to state law. If not, the person whose image was used can sue.
Through case law the protected uses have expanded to include a voice or even a gesture that is widely associated with a particular character, according to an aide in Rosenberg’s office. However, state law has no provision for maintaining control over a person’s image after that person dies.
“During your lifetime if you’re a celebrity of any sort, your persona, your name, your face, your voice, the characters you create, the characters that you play are all protected and you own them,” Rosenberg said. “Upon your death however, they are no longer protected. So your heirs have nothing to say in many instances.”
Rosenberg’s bill defines the people covered under the legislation as “personalities” whose “identity has commercial value.” If the law passes, Massachusetts would become the 16th state to extend the right of publicity beyond death by statute.