Celebs Could Soon Have Post-Mortem ‘Personality’ Protections

A bill passed by the Senate would bar companies from using famous people to sell products after they die.

Photo via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

Celebrities could soon lay to rest without the worry of their image or likeness showing up in a commercial or on a product’s label once they’re gone.

In a voice vote on Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate gave the thumbs up to a bill that, if passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law, would protect famous faces from appearing on television spots, or endorsing companies through other mediums without their prior consent, even after they pass away.

The bill, called “an act protecting the commercial value of artists, entertainers, and other notable personalities,” was sponsored by state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and had the endorsement and full support of Massachusetts resident and comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille. The couple, who own a home in Shelburne Falls, have been pushing for the bill’s passage for years.

A “personality” is defined in the bill as anyone whose identity has commercial value, and could be used to promote sales of goods, products, and services. The proposal would protect a person’s identity, who’s covered under the language outlined in the bill, for up to 70 years after the date of their death.

As it stands, any company that wants to use a celebrity’s face or voice for their products has to get the written consent from that person. But there are no protections in place to keep that company from overstepping those bounds if a notable or recognizable figure dies. “Something like a dozen states have now updated laws so protections that a celebrity has during life are extended beyond their death, so their heirs and their estate can have a similar control, not only for commercial purposes, but in deciding what the individual’s likeness, voice, and face would be associated with,” said Rosenberg. “Under the current law, you could do anything you wanted with  Fat Albert or Bill Cosby, because once the artist dies everything moves into public domain, and they can do anything they want. And that’s not right.”

The Senate could be the bill’s final resting place, however. This particular measure was passed by legislators in previous sessions, but never made it out of the House chambers. But after six years of trying to move this particular piece of legislation forward, Rosenberg hopes that’s not the case. “It’s a slow process. It’s one of those issues where, it seems like common sense, but there are a lot of technical details that prevent it from getting passed quick,” he said. “It seems unfair and unreasonable not to have protections in place for at least some period of time, so that the work and the image of an individual does not get distorted.”