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Immediate Help Needed on New York “Dead Celebrities” Bill

This is addressed to our New York State members. Since much of the publishing industry is based in New York, the legislation would have a nationwide effect, so we thought all of our members should know about it.

There’s been a sudden and alarming push in the New York State Legislature to pass a bill that would create a posthumous “right of publicity” for anyone who died since Jan. 1, 1938.

The bills would give heirs the right to control the use of the “name, portrait, voice, signature or picture” of anyone who died within the last 70 years for “advertising purposes or for purposes of trade.” The legislation provides for criminal penalties for unauthorized uses and gives heirs a right to sue for damages.

The two versions of the bill that have been introduced do not provide a clear exemption for literary works. Certainly a bill that would open up biographers and historians–and many fiction writers–to a new kind of liability shouldn’t be undertaken without careful consideration.

Our sources in Albany tell us that the Assembly bill (A. 8836) could be voted on at any time by the full Assembly and that it would most likely pass. The Senate bill (S. 6005) seems to be on a slower track, although it is still possible that it will pop up before the legislature recesses tomorrow or when it is reconvened by the Governor in July.

We see no choice but to strongly and quickly oppose the legislation. The Authors Guild has already gone on record expressing its opposition. If you as Members want to register your opposition (and it would help the effort immensely we’re told), please fax your letters or call the legislators listed below immediately:

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (phone: 518-455-3191; fax: 518-455-2448)

Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn, Sponsor of Senate bill) (phone: 518-455-2730; fax: 518-426-6910)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (phone: 518-455-3791; fax: 518-455-5459)

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn,Sponsor of Assembly bill) (phone: 518-455-5462; fax 518-455-5752)

Many thanks. We’ll let you know what happens.

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