Deceased comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Chris Farley is at the center of a controversy concerning the use of a Farley clip in a DirecTV advertisement. The advertisement involves a clip from the movie “Tommy Boy” in which Farley and co-star David Spade appear in a skit dubbed “fat guy in a little coat.” Critics allege the ad is in poor taste.
The ad deviates from being simply a movie clip when new footage of Spade involves his pitch for DirecTV. “Great, I’m here with tons of fun, but I could be at home with DirecTV” Spade says.
The decision to proceed with the spot was made with the consent of not only Spade, who did not even want to attend Farley’s funeral apparently for emotional reasons relating to being in the same room with his deceased friend in “a box,” but also from Farley’s family. Spade issued a statement that “…we talked and thought it would be a cool way to remind people just how funny Chris was.” DirecTV executives have stated that the decision to proceed should be up to the family.
From a legal perspective, that would be the correct answer. In my experience, fans of beloved, departed personalities can be quite critical of decisions by the heirs of that personality. But the right of publicity exists in no small part to ensure that, at the very least, those decisions can be made by the heirs and not the public at large. Right or wrong, I suspect that is the best system available.
I am reminded of a television ad for GMC trucks, involving a still image of Rosa Parks along with many other personalities and images, such as Martin Luther King Jr., a former President, Neil Armstrong, as well as iconic images from U.S. history. This ad ran shortly after I had helped secure Rosa Parks as a client for my company at the time. Shortly thereafter, an op-ed ran in the New York Times stating that it was inappropriate for Rosa Parks to be hawking trucks.
The decision to license the still image of Rosa Parks was carefully considered by those charged with that responsibility. Ultimately, permission was granted because the use was deemed tasteful, not derogatory to Rosa’s legacy, and a meaningful source of needed-funding for The Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute for Self-Development.
The New York Times writer did not point his pen at the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., or any of the other notables who were used in precisely the same manner as Rosa Parks. I bet that the Rosa Parks Institute might have considered foregoing the ad if that NY Times writer would have offered to open his check book and make a donation for the same amount of proceeds that the license fee generated for Rosa’s charitable organization.
I’d say that begins to put things in perspective.
Here is a link to the Farley story: http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/TV/10/27/farley.directtv.commercial/index.html