This post was written by Rebecca Maller and Keri S. Bruce.
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 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.” To garner the bill’s protection, however, 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 of Amherst, the bill continues the trend of states providing additional publicity rights after death, as discussed in our earlier post regarding 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, 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).
Why This Matters: If the Massachusetts House passes its version of the bill, Massachusetts will be one of only 14 states that provide post-mortem Right of Publicity protection. Other states in addition to those mentioned above include Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington.