IP Law Daily Minnesota lawmakers fast track publicity rights bill in wake of Prince’s death
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Minnesota lawmakers fast track publicity rights bill in wake of Prince’s death

By Cheryl Beise, J.D.

Minnesota legislators are fast-tracking bipartisan legislation to grant publicity rights protection to individuals, living or deceased. Identical bills were introduced in the Senate (S.F. No. 360) and the House of Representatives (H.F. 3994) yesterday. This afternoon, the House Civil and Data Practices Committee approved H.F. 3994, with two technical amendments, by voice vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the measure tomorrow. The regular Minnesota legislative session will close in two weeks.

The legislation—dubbed “the PRINCE Act,” an acronym for “Personal Rights in Names Can Endure,”—is named after celebrity musician, songwriter, and recording artist Prince (aka Prince Rogers Nelson), who died unexpectedly on April 21 at the age of 57. The cause of death has yet to be released. Prince’s famed Paisley Park home and compound are located in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

If approved, the PRINCE Act would prohibit the unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s voice, name, signature, photograph, or likeness for purposes of (1) advertising selling, or soliciting purchases of products, merchandise, goods, or services, or (2) fund-raising or soliciting donations. The legislation would operate posthumously for a minimum of 50 years and up to a maximum of 100 years. The Act would allow for injunctive relief, seizure of unauthorized items and instrumentalities used in connection with the violation, and recovery of actual damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs.

The proposal would create an exception for “fair use,” defined generally as “the use of a name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness is in connection with a news, public affairs, or sports broadcast or account.”

The PRINCE Act would take effect on August 1, 2016. However, the legislation expressly provides that “the rights recognized by the bill “are expressly made retroactive, including to those deceased individuals who died before the effective date of this act.”

Attorney Joel Leviton of Stinson, Leonard, and Street testified before the House Civil and Data Practices Committee. Leviton was involved in drafting the legislation and represents the Bremer Trust, appointed by the Carver County district court as special administrator of Prince’s estate. Several committee members questioned Leviton about the scope of the PRINCE bill, including whether specific ads or tributes occurring after Prince’s death would be covered by the new law. Leviton opined that the law would apply only to ads or tributes made after the effective date of the Act. Leviton also said that the 50-100 year term for recognizing post-mortem rights was selected as a compromise. Of the 17 states that have passed laws recognizing the post-mortem right of publicity, Leviton noted that California recognizes a 70 year right of exploitation, Indiana a 100 year term, and Tennessee a potentially indefinite term.

Also testifying today in favor of the legislation was Elizabeth Mottur, Director of State Government Affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). According to Mottur, the expressive works exemption in the bill “strikes the appropriate balance.”

Michael Jacobson, President of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, also appeared before the House Civil and Data Practices Committee. Jacobson expressed concern about the speed of the bill’s progress and saw no reason why it had to be rushed through the legislature in two weeks. Everything you place in right of publicity takes away from First Amendment rights, Jacobson said. A bill that is well-intentioned but not well-executed could result in unnecessary litigation and exploitation, he added.

H.F. 3994 is sponsored by Representatives Joe Hoppe (R-47B), John Lesch (D-66B), and Nick Zerwas (R-30A). S.F. No. 360 is sponsored by Senators Bobby Joe Champion (D-59), Jeff Hayden (D-62), Karin Housely (R-39), Tom Saxhaug (D-05), and Richard Cohen (D-54). Currently, there is no Minnesota statute explicitly protecting publicity rights.

MainStory: TopStory PublicityRights

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