Intellectual Property Law with Hologram Celebrities – What You Should Know

January 24, 2013 - 4 minute read

ImageImageEveryone has a favorite music artist. The thought of seeing them perform in person becomes a quick afterthought if they are no longer alive. However, with the recent ‘holographic’ performance of rapper, Tupac Shakur, many fans are getting their wish.

Before venturing down this road of entertainment, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Copyright Laws

The 1976 Copyright Act gives people exclusive rights to reproduce or create similar works from their original works; distribute copies and phonorecords of their work to the public by sale, lease or rental; perform and display their work publicly; and perform a sound recording by means of digital audio (as of the 1995 amendment). The work is protected for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years after death.

2. Right of Publicity

Right of publicity laws vary from state to state, but all protect against commercial exploitation of someone’s name or likeness. According to the ABA Business Law Section’s Online Resource, celebrities and other artists own the copyright to their work, which protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works by federal copyright law. Depending on the year of the published work, an artist’s right of publicity may also be protected for 70 years after death.

3. Trademarks

Trademarks are words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify someone’s goods and services. An artist is also protected against anyone negatively using their name or likeness. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, once a trademark is registered, it is valid as long as you continue to file that it is in use. If the filing is not maintained, you risk your registration being cancelled with no chance of reinstatement.

Digitized versions of celebrities might be referred to as holograms, but if there is a two-dimensional aspect to the image, it isn’t an actual hologram. Like the ‘reappearance’ of Tupac Shakur, it could be the parlor trick involving the projection technique called Pepper’s Ghost. This allows someone to be projected onto a stage using a sheet of glass and manipulated light, giving a ghost-like appearance while being able to perform next to a living person, or even on their own.

Intellectual property law may apply differently where a hologram or projection is being used, so there is more to consider. Personality rights cover any likeness of a person, her voice, and her signature. These laws were put in place so that unauthorized use could be terminated immediately upon discovery. Due to the capabilities of technology today, the California Screen Actors Guild sponsored a bill, affectionately known as the Dead Celebrities Bill, that allows celebrities publicity rights to go beyond the 50 years after their death (In 1999 the California Legislature changed the definition to 70 years). Being in control of one’s identity also extends to one’s heirs, upon death.

This information merely skims the surface of all the legal and financial responsibilities associated with celebrities’ intellectual property. One thing’s for certain, it is better to have the knowledge regarding these laws and not need it than to need it and not have it.

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