Who can cash in on Prince’s image?

MN lawmakers propose Prince-inspired rights of publicity bill

News Brief
Prince's likeness has appeared on T-shirts and other items since his April 21 passing.
Prince’s likeness has appeared on T-shirts and other items since his April 21 passing.

Both the Minnesota Senate and House are proposing a bill that would protect a person’s legacy after they have died.

Twenty-four states already have a right of publicity law, which prohibits the unauthorized commercial use of a person’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona and gives an individual the exclusive right to license the commercial use of their identity.

Seventeen states have such laws beyond death, but the current Minnesota right of publicity law isn’t clear as it pertains to an individual’s rights beyond death. “The right of publicity in itself is not new in Minnesota law, but recognizing it after death would be new. We want Minnesota to be a key state that recognizes this post mortem right of publicity,” said Joel Leviton of Stinson Leonard Street LLP to the MSR in a phone interview. Leviton is counsel to the court-appointed administrator of the estate for local music legend Prince.

“Prince’s passing is a springboard to have this conversation, but it could protect all Minnesotans,” explained Leviton of the bill that was initiated after Prince died on April 21. Since Prince’s passing, T-shirts and other items have been created bearing the late singer’s image.

Prince’s estate is under a court-appointed administrator since it’s been reported the singer-musician did not have a will.

“You don’t need to be a celebrity” for this law — if passed — to apply, continued Leviton. “It would prevent the commercial use of someone’s photograph even after they died, for example.”

With nearly two weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, Leviton said he felt good about the bill’s chances of passing through both state houses and reaching the governor’s desk before the session’s conclusion. “I’m cautiously optimistic about it,” he said. “It’s a common sense issue.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.