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The New York Times finally got around to covering California’s new “Dead Celebrity Law,” and in this case late was worse than never. The story, by Jordana Lewis, is underreported and shallow in its scope and conclusions. This is why God made blogs.
I’ve posted a couple of items on this story, once in late August when the California legislature began considering the new law, and once in late September, when the legislature hastily pushed through the bill with barely any debate. Since that time, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has sign the bill into law, and it will take effect on January 1.
The new law extends rights of publicity—that is, the right to control one’s likeness and name—to celebrities who died in years past. Or at least that is the general idea. In reality, the law benefits one company, Marilyn Monroe LLC, which controls the estate (including the right of publicity) of the late actress. The new law was essentially written and sponsored by lawyers working with Marilyn Monroe LLC. Other celebrity estates, however, may now find it more confusing than ever to assert their claims to rights of publicity. And of course there are losers: Namely the heirs of several photographers who famously photographed Marilyn. Sadly, the Times didn’t interview those heirs. In fact, they didn’t even mention them in the story. The reporter did however get some juicy quotes from the lawyers for Marilyn Monroe LLC, as well as the state senator who introduced the bill.