Advertisers Blast Proposed Expansion Of Celebrities' Right To Sue

New York lawmakers are again considering a proposal to broaden the state's "right of publicity" law by allowing the heirs of deceased celebrities to sue over the commercial use of their name or images.

The proposal, first introduced last year, would authorize suits against marketers, broadcasters and other media outlets that use names, photos or likenesses of people without their consent -- even if they have never lived in New York. People's heirs would also be able to sue for 40 years, provided they pay $50 to register with the New York Secretary of State.

New York currently allows people to sue over the commercial use of their names or photos, but doesn't allow those kinds of suits by heirs.

The Association of National Advertisers, which opposes the proposed law, on Friday warned New York legislators against the proposal.

"As currently drafted, the legislation could cause serious harm to our members in the marketing and advertising community, many of whom are based in New York and the vast majority of whom transact significant amounts of business within the state," the letter states.

The group adds that the proposed law "impacts the ANA membership by subjecting all national advertising campaigns to potential suit within the state, regardless of where the decedent was domiciled."

The advertisers also criticize the proposal for extending the "right of publicity" from merely covering people's names and images to also covering their characteristics and likenesses. Characteristics and likeness "are vague terms that would likely end up as a question of fact for a jury," the ANA writes.

Last year, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation also weighed in against the proposal, which it called "deeply flawed."

The group said in a letter to New York lawmakers that the original idea behind the right of publicity made sense, but that the right shouldn't survive an individual's death.

"Using someone's face to sell soap or gum, for example, might be embarrassing for that person and she should have the right to prevent it," the group wrote. "A post-mortem right, however, means your heirs can invoke the right long after you are dead and, presumably, in no position to be embarrassed by any sordid commercial associations."

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