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By Mark Wolski
May 19 — A Minnesota legislator sponsoring a bill to extend the right of publicity beyond a person's death withdrew the measure, saying there was too little time left in the legislative session to address questions about the measure.
State Rep. Joe Hoppe, a Republican, said the bill (H.F. 3994) spurred by the death of Minneapolis native and rock superstar Prince would be reintroduced next year.
Joel D. Leviton, attorney for the Bremer Trust, the special administrator of Prince's estate, said the bill's death was disappointing but not totally unexpected. It's now possible the issue of right of publicity after death could be decided by the Minnesota courts, he said.
Under the bill, Minnesota residents would have a property right in the use of their name, voice signature, signature, photograph and likeness in any medium in any manner. The property rights would be assignable and licensable and would not expire on a person's death. The rights would be able to be passed on to the person's heirs and executors.
The rights would continue for a minimum of 50 years after a person's death, and could be extended another 50, provided they were not terminated for non-use.
The length of the terms was chosen to be somewhat consistent with the other states that recognize rights of publicity after death, Leviton said. For instance, Indiana extends the right for 100 years, while California extends the right for 70. In Tennessee, the right of publicity can go on indefinitely.
Leviton, in testimony on the bill, said it was necessary because, while Minnesota law recognizes a right of publicity during a person's lifetime, the law is less clear on whether the right extends beyond death. Prince's death in late April brought this to the state's attention., he said. With Prince apparently having died without a will, Leviton hoped the Minnesota legislature could address the issue before the courts did.
Aside from trying to avoid litigation, Leviton said the bill's introduction was intended to help resolve questions about Prince's estate, which will likely have to address tax issues within the next nine months. Having the right of publicity settled could have helped resolve estate issues in a more orderly fashion, he said.
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