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in Filmmaking
on Jul 20, 2007

I was forwarded the below email written by Elena Paul, Executive Director of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, that I thought should be reposted here:

Dear VLA Friends and Members,

We’re sending this to all VLA members because of the nationwide importance of this New York legislation. The New York State Assembly and Senate adjourned their regular sessions yesterday without taking action on the “Dead Celebrities” bill. This is good news. This legislation would give heirs of anyone who died after January 1, 1938, the right to sue for unauthorized use in “advertising” or “for the purpose of trade” the “name, portrait, voice, signature or picture” of their deceased forbearers. It clearly poses a significant threat to First Amendment rights and, as a consequence, would impose limitations on the rights of all artists.

As a representative of the arts community, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts opposes the adoption of any such new rights. Although there was no action on the bill, it appears likely that it will be reconsidered in a special session of the legislature expected this summer. It’s not too late — nor too early for the anticipated special session – – to register your opposition to the bill: please fax your letters to the legislators listed below. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (fax: 518-455- 2448); Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn, Sponsor of Senate bill) (fax: 518-426-6910); Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (fax: 518-455-5459); Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn, Sponsor of Assembly bill) (fax 518-455-5752).

I was unaware of this bill but it’s clear how restrictive and limiting this would be for filmmakers exploring issues of biography, history and satire in their work. Even without this bill, filmmakers face hurdles. Whenever you get Errors and Omissions Insurance on a film there’s a vague question on the form you have to fill out that asks whether you have in your movie the depiction of any living or dead actual person and whether you’ve followed proper release procedures. If you have a photo of dead celebrity, of course you need to get a clearance from the owner of the photograph, but if the person is a public figure most often you don’t go back to their heirs. The language quoted above seems broad and vague and would add yet another troublesome layer to our already ridiculously overdetermined clearance culture.

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