Senator Golden Advances Legislation To Combat Post Mortem Identity Theft

Martin J. Golden

June 11, 2007

Senator Marty Golden and Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein announced they have introduced legislation (S.6005/A.8836) that would close a loophole that currently allows for the unauthorized use of the image, name and likeness of deceased celebrities without any recourse by the estates to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are complied with or that they are treated with respect and dignity.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A coalition including the estate of Marilyn Monroe, Ilyasah Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X), actor Al Pacino, artist Yoko Ono (on behalf of herself and her late husband John Lennon), singer Liza Minelli, artist Jean Moutoussamy Ashe (on behalf of her late husband Arthur Ashe), Janie Hendrix (sister of musician Jimi Hendrix), the estate of Mickey Mantle represented by his widow Merlyn and sons David and Danny Mantle, and the estate of Eleanor Gehrig on behalf of Yankee great Lou Gehrig has formed to stop “identity predators” and protect the dignity, character and wishes of deceased actors, athletes, artists and the institutions that benefit from their legacies by enacting a Post Mortem Right of Publicity.

“The fact that unscrupulous quick buck artists can profiteer on a loophole in our law by selling insulting and degrading images of those who are deceased is shameful,” stated State Senator Marty Golden. “<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />New York law should protect those families and institutions that could be harmed by these identity predators.”

“Institutions and charities stand to lose if we allow this loophole to remain unclosed,” added Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein. “We need to protect the dignity and wishes of those who have given us their creative spirit during their lifetime. This legislation preserves all inherent and explicit artistic rights to make unauthorized biographies, documentaries or other legitimate First Amendment- protected activities, but will ensure that a celebrity’s hard earned, unique character is protected from a wide range of commercial exploitation.”

In just one of many testimonial statements, renowned New Yorker Liza Minnelli — speaking on her own behalf as well as for her late mother Judy Garland’s behalf— says, “...publicity rights are as important to the protection of a celebrity’s identity as any other intellectual property right. I believe only [my] family or those entrusted with this right can truly know how to maintain the integrity, respect and dignity of a loved one’s name, image and likeness.” Al Pacino writes, “I feel one’s likeness and image should be protected in some way and not abused or denigrated for the sake of a profit.”

Assemblywoman Weinstein added “From the correspondence and conversations I’ve had, I am concerned that organizations that are engaged in promoting the arts, sportsmanship, academic and health research could be harmed if we fail to act. Now is the time to correct this oversight before we lose something of value.”

The Assembly has moved A.8836 out of the Judiciary Committee and it’s expected to pass out of the Assembly Codes Committee on Tuesday, June 12, 2007. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Rules for consideration.