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Minn. House committee backs allowing Prince’s heirs rights to profit

ST. PAUL -- Prince's likeness and name should belong to his heirs, whoever the courts decide they are, an attorney for his estate told Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday."What this law would do, it would clarify that this right of publicity would contin...

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ST. PAUL - Prince’s likeness and name should belong to his heirs, whoever the courts decide they are, an attorney for his estate told Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday.
“What this law would do, it would clarify that this right of publicity would continue after death and it would be something the estate can control,” said Joel Leviton, partner in the Stinson Leonard Street law firm.
The bottom line, he said to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee, is that Prince’s heirs deserve to collect money from his career.
However, he added, “at this point, it is not clear who his heirs are.” A court is considering the issue, and put Bremer Trust in charge for the time being.
Leviton emphasized that the bill would apply to any Minnesota artist, not just Prince.
Minnesota courts long have held that heirs have the right to profits from artists’ works, but Leviton said it needs to be put into law as other states have done.
Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, wondered if the bill would protect the symbol Prince had used for a time instead of a name.
“What about that ying-yang glyph?” he asked.
Leviton said that it could be considered part of Prince’s likeness under the legislation and also could be protected by trademark laws.
Mark Anfinson, representing Minnesota newspapers, said he is concerned that the bill is being pushed through the Legislature too quickly. “It has a number of serious flaws.”
In the Prince case, Leviton said, action is needed soon to settle issues quickly, including tax matters that will come up within nine months.
Anfinson suggested that the bill be limited to rights after an artist dies, and lawmakers return next year to consider more in-depth legislation.
He said the law could be used “by the Jesse Venturas of the world,” fighting people he thinks are using his name or likeness improperly.
Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, died April 21. While painkillers are believed to have contributed to his death, autopsy results are pending.
Prince apparently died without a will. Bremer Trust took control of the estate while his family tries to become involved.
On Tuesday, a Carver County court ordered anyone with claims against the Prince estate to present them to Bremer’s St. Cloud office within four months.
The legislation heard by a House committee Tuesday will appear in front of a Senate panel Wednesday. With the Legislature facing a mandatory May 23 adjournment, the bills introduced Monday have moved extraordinarily quickly to receive committee hearings and must continue the rapid ascent to be passed by the full House and Senate.
While the legislation was written in reaction to Prince’s death, it would apply to any Minnesotans. It is called Personal Rights In Names Can Endure Act, or PRINCE Act.
Seventeen states have the right to publicity that is included in the bill that extends after death.
The legislation would apply to people and organizations’ “name, voice, signature, photograph and likeness in any medium.” Examples of what would be banned, without permission, are merchandise, advertising and fundraising.
Courts could grant injunctions stopping the use of a person’s name and likeness, the bill says. The person or organization who was violated may recover damages.
The law could protect the person’s name and likeness at least 50 years after death.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE
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