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Observations about New York’s Assembly Bill A.8155B

June 16, 2018 No Comments »
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One has to marvel at the arguments being attempted in opposition to New York’s Assembly Bill A.8155B.  Here is a link to the bill:  New York Assembly Bill A.8155B

In coverage of the bill (in the Hollywood Reporter coverage, link below), the MPAA says one of the fatal problems with the bill is that it does not have limitations for First Amendment purposes.  Let’s shine the white-hot light of truth on such misinformation with a quick look at S.51 of the bill:

 §  51.  Action  for injunction and for damages.  ...  
    50    2. Right of publicity exceptions. For purposes of the right of public-
    51  ity, consent for use  of  another  individual's  persona  shall  not  be
    52  required, except as otherwise provided in subdivisions three and four of
    53  this section, when used in connection with the following:
    54    (a)  news, public affairs or sports broadcast, including the promotion
    55  of and advertising for a public affairs or sports broadcast, an  account
    56  of public interest or a political campaign;
        A. 8155--B                          5
     1    (b) in:
     2    (i)  a  play,  book,  magazine, newspaper, musical composition, visual
     3  work, work of art, audiovisual work, radio or television program  if  it
     4  is  fictional  or nonfictional entertainment, or a dramatic, literary or
     5  musical work;
     6    (ii) a work of political, public interest or newsworthy value  includ-
     7  ing a comment, criticism, parody, satire or a transformative creation of
     8  a work of authorship; or
     9    (iii) an advertisement or commercial announcement for any of the works
    10  described in paragraph (a) of this subdivision or this paragraph; or
    11    (c)  fundraising  purposes  by  not-for-profit  radio  and  television
    12  stations licensed by the federal communications commission of the United
    13  States, or by not-for-profit advocacy organizations if the  use  is  for
    14  commentary or criticism;
    15    (d)  use  of the right of publicity of a deceased individual where the
    16  licensee or successor in interest has failed  to  register  and  post  a
    17  claim of right under section fifty-h of this article, with the exception
    18  of the safe harbor period listed in subdivision seven of section fifty-h
    19  of this article, until such time as a claim of right has been registered
    20  and posted as required under such section.

Accuracy appears to be the first casualty in the fight against Right of Publicity recognition.  Claiming the First Amendment will be jeopardized and creative works stifled if the legislation is passed is such a popular refrain designed to make every legislator afraid to go against something as fundamental as the First Amendment, that it will be repeated even when the statute specifically contains exactly what it is alleged to lack.

Another observation is the attempt to characterize New York’s bill as something so revolutionary, something so dangerous, that the bill simply must be shelved.  New York’s legislature has been in almost a permanent state of considering this legislation.  Many other states have Right of Publicity recognition firmly in place, and so far, I’m happy to report the First Amendment, creative works, commerce, and freedom in general have not withered in those jurisdictions.  We might have heard about it if these popular, dire predictions actually ever occurred.

Another quick observation relates to the provisions in the bill addressing deep fake uses and digital recreation of a person.  On this point, I might just sit back and listen as the lobbyists attempt to argue against a baseline provision addressing the extreme abuses possible by way of deep fake uses and digital recreation.

Lastly, in the Hollywood Reporter’s coverage, it is suggested that A.8155B isn’t really needed because the Lanham Act, false endorsement and privacy rights already provide adequate recourse.  They  don’t.  That statement would only hold true for the small number of people so famous that they can actually support a trademark claim.  Suggesting that the Lanham Act and privacy rights are a sufficient substitute for the Right of Publicity is simply inaccurate, and this point ought to be beyond debate.  The article says it is not attempting to take offer competing interpretations and that both sides are probably guilty of overreaching, but then comments only on supporters of the bill, with no commentary or insight on how the studios and opponents to the bill may also be overreaching.  Here is the link:  Hollywood Reporter coverage on New York’s Assembly Bill A.8155B

In the ugliness of lobbying, it is apparent that being right, or even knowing what the legislation actually says, is not really an important detail.


Do a few suits equal a “wave?” Are producers having a hard time making creative works?

March 10, 2018 No Comments »
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At a recent Napa Valley ABA panel, the argument reportedly was made that a wave of lawsuits filed against media companies is making it harder for producers to make documentaries, docudramas and sports features. I’m reminded of the coverage after Comedy III or the Tiger Woods case against Jireh, when claims were made that “artists can’t create art anymore.” Gotta love hyperbole.

Last time I checked, a few lawsuits doesn’t constitute a wave. And it sure doesn’t seem like the documentary, docudrama and sports feature categories are struggling. I’d wager that more such words are being created now than ever before.

The pending suit by Mohammad Ali’s rights owners against Fox for a Super Bowl spot, and a separate claim by Olivia de Havilland are probably the main examples of this “trend” or “wave.” Why don’t we speak of the trend or wave of media giants and advertisers trying to get for free rights that should be licensed? Sure, documentaries, docudramas, and whatever “sports features” are may present specific cases, but it isn’t too radical of an idea to suggest that each situation may present unique facts or characteristics that must be considered. Bad lawsuits will be filed, in all areas of the law. Abuses will happen by billion-dollar corporations or industries, of all manner of intellectual property rights. It happens, and we have laws and a system for addressing them.

Let’s try not to get carried away. My experience is those making the most dire predictions of a dystopian world where the right of publicity has consume the First Amendment rights are usually those aligned with the deep pockets that benefit most from such misinformation, or from those with precious little experience working with and representing rights owners.

Law 360 “Wave of Suits”


Italian Steve Jobs fashion company makes obvious the necessity for meaningful Right of Publicity provisions

January 2, 2018 2 Comments »
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For those who argue against the need for meaningful Right of Publicity legislation, like many I have observed in the latest New York legislative effort, I offer the following situation as a compelling example that not only demonstrates the necessity of Right of Publicity recognition, but also the inadequacy of trademark law as a sufficient substitute.

An Italian company led by two brothers started a fashion company called Steve Jobs. There is no mistaken identity or alternate Steve Jobs intended by the fashion company; they openly confirm that their company is named after the late Apple-innovator Steve Jobs. Want proof? Their logo is the letter “J” with a bite taken out of it, just like Apple’s iconic trademark.

While many will already see the obvious, note that an EU trademark proceeding determined that the fashion company’s logo is (somehow) not a J with a bite out of it because (apparently) a J cannot be bitten as an apple can.

Perhaps under the guise of feigning nobility or respectfulness, the company states that they won’t make shoddy products because they “respect the name of Steve Jobs.” Of course, that respect doesn’t preclude them from including Steve Jobs’ quotes in their promotional efforts.

This, loyal readers, scholars or members of the media, is why we need a Right of Publicity. This situation exposes the inadequacy of arguing that trademark law provides sufficient protection for publicity-rights interests. It also demonstrates the compelling necessity for meaningful Right of Publicity legislation as a distinct member within the intellectual property family.

Here is a link to an article with more details on the matter:

Italian Steve Jobs company v. Apple article


Muhammad Ali lawsuit against Fox for Super Bowl LI promo

October 11, 2017 No Comments »
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Muhammad Ali’s representatives have filed a $30 million lawsuit on behalf of Muhammad Ali Enterprises (MAE) against Fox Broadcasting Company.  The suit centers around a three minute promotional ad for Super Bowl LI which ran before the Super Bowl in 2017.  The spot includes various other personalities, past and present, in addition to Ali who is the focal point.

Here is a link to the complaint:


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