In our first episode of Purple Reign, we saw that even though Prince was known as a “control freak” when it came to many things, he may have let a few things slip, such as the non-existence of a valid will.
Notwithstanding that incredibly inconvenient post-mortem faux paux, Prince was in fact obsessively compulsive when it came to controlling his intellectual property. He wanted to be in control. First, there was the “artist formally known as Prince” symbol he adopted in the late 1990’s in order to get order to leverage a split with then-record label Warner Bros. He was also a DMCA mad man known for sending frequent “take down notices” for everything from YouTube videos to fan made merchandise featuring his trademarks and rights of publicity.
Surreptitiously as it may be, Prince (or more to the point, his estate) may find that he has even more control over his intellectual property in death than he ever did in life. A new law in Minnesota called the PRINCE act plans to do just that. Less than one month after Prince’s death, Minnesota Rep. Joe Hoppe, introduced the Personal Rights in Names Can Endure (“PRINCE”) Act. The new act recognizes that “an individual has a property right in the use of that individual’s name, voice, signature, photograph, and likeness in any medium and in any manner.”
Unlike copyrights and trademarks, the right of publicity is not created by federal law but by the laws of each individual state, so the degree of protection varies significantly from state to state. Minnesota is currently one of just over 20 states in the U.S. that does not provide any protections for a person’s rights of publicity, either before or after death. The Prince Act would remedy that absence in Minnesota.
Many states, particularly those states where entertainment is a major source of tax revenue such as Tennessee, New York, California and Florida, have laws protecting a person’s rights in their name, likeness and sometimes other features of their persona, such as voice and signature. Length of protection is one of the variants. Indiana, for example, has a law that protects for 100 years after the person’s death and “reaches back” 50 years prior. There have been some challenges to the constitutionality of some of these laws, so many believe that a Federal law is needed to address the widely varying laws.
Minnesota’s PRINCE act would allow Prince’s estate to control the aforementioned post-mortem rights of publicity, or all things Prince, for the next 50 years. It’s important to note that although Prince’s death was the impetus for the law, according to its sponsor, it actually protects the rights of all citizens to their rights of publicity, not just Prince. This is one very important point that the faulty logic of critics of the act, such as The Volokh Conspiracy and ostensible IP expert David Post, do not factor into their criticism: the act is fundamentally fair because it protects ALL citizens of Minnesota, not just Prince’s estate. It is similar in structure to most rights of publicity laws, in that the Minnesota law essentially states that “