Thursday, October 25, 2007

The dead celebrities bill

Dead celebrities in California can now breathe easier, according to the NYT, in the knowledge that Arnie has signed a dead celebrities bill enabling the estates of those celebrities who died before 1985 to benefit from exploiting their publicity rights. Up until now only the estates of those who died in 1985 or later could do so.

"The notion that celebrities could even confer the right to cash in on their personas post mortem was in dispute until 1984, when the California Legislature passed a bill that allowed stars to leave such rights in their wills. In May of this year, however, two federal courts interpreted the bill with regard to the Monroe estate in a way that excluded her and other celebrities who died before the Legislature’s action.

In two federal cases heard this spring in the Central District of California and the Southern District of New York, judges ruled that only those who died after 1985 could bequeath rights of publicity. The effect was to make the Monroe estate unable to prevent the unauthorized exploitation of her image and likeness, whether on a calendar, a T-shirt or a coffee mug.

With some nudging from the Screen Actors Guild and the Monroe estate, the California Senate drafted clarifying legislation. Senate Bill No. 771, affectionately known as the Dead Celebrities Bill, passed without objection and was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this month."

Marilyn Monroe left her worldly goods to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, who died in 1982. The main beneficiary of Strasberg's will was his second wife, someone with no connection to Monroe. Now 25 years after her husband's death and 45 years after Monroe's, however, she (and presumably her heirs on her death) is entitled to several million dollars in revenues generated every year by Marylin Monroe memorabilia. It must be a bit like winning the lottery.

It all kinda reminds me of the closing paragraph in Theodore Steinberg's, Slide Mountain: Or The Folly of Owning Nature,

"Even Henry David Thoreau, nature lover though he was, could not help dreaming about owning a slice of the earth he loved so much... Then he ventured on before his fingers got "burned by actual possession." As he wrote, "Man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." By Thoreau's standards the modern American landscape is a very poor one indeed."

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