July 23, 2007

A California Initiative To Protect Images [8:08 am]

Literally. The real question, of course, is whether this will lead to “protection” of images or merely protection of “revenue” — and how would you know the difference anyway? IPR run amok — and a demonstration of the degree to which the notion of value and property have become conflated. For example, I had to post the rhetorical trick used on the front page teaser for the story: Bill attempts to protect dead stars’ imagespdf

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a television star in the 1960s, has won preliminary approval of legislation that would bolster the “postmortem right of publicity” held by the heirs of famous people to control the use of their images, voices, signatures and likenesses for commercial purposes.

The bill would apply such rights to celebrities who died before 1985 and would retroactively allow them to be passed to nonrelatives. Opponents of the legislation say that it could retroactively nullify publicity rights that have been in the public domain or held by relatives of hundreds of dead actors and artists, and trigger a flood of lawsuits.

If it becomes law, “this is going to cause pandemonium in the courts,” said Surjit Soni, a Pasadena attorney representing a company founded by the late Milton H. Greene, a Monroe photographer.

[...] “This bill is a recognition of the right to publicize and use an image as a kind of property right that extends beyond death and can be willed as a kind of personal property,” Kuehl said. “The image of a celebrity is not something the public can use generally … no matter how popular the celebrity is.”

[...] “My clients owned the copyright on the photos,” Soni said. “These celebrities voluntarily posed for these photos. They filed model release forms.”

[...] But Soni asserted that the Kuehl bill could retroactively alter rights to the images of hundreds of other celebrities, including Walt Disney. “It creates potential for litigation and strife,” he said.

The bill’s opponents also argue that it “effects an unlawful taking of property, violates due process [and] unconstitutionally impairs existing contracts of not only photographers, but also the studios and other business.”

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