Cosby bill protects image after death

BOSTON (WWLP) — Bill Cosby has spent much of his life building a brand of wholesome humor as a worldwide entertainer, comedian and creator of the 80’s hit, “The Cosby Show.”  But the Shelburne Falls resident worries his image could be taken advantage of or associated with things he'd never agree to after he dies.  Amherst state Senator Stanley Rosenberg has filed a "Right to Publicity" bill on Cosby's behalf to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“What we're trying to do is to join, oh about 14 other states, I think now, have extended beyond the life of the individual for their heirs to be able to continue to protect and frankly benefit by ...the celebrity whose name they're entrusted with,” said Rosenberg.

The bill gives a person's heirs the right to own or sell their image and sue anyone who uses it without permission for 70 years after they die.  Cosby's attorney, Melinda Phelps of Bulkley Richardson and Gelinas LLP, says the legislation will make sure her client's family and legacy are protected well after he's gone.

“For actors and actresses, singers, they work very hard to hone their skills and their image, their likeness, something that is so intrinsic to who they are,” said Phelps.  “They believe that their families should be able to benefit from their hard work after they die.”

But the bill walks the fine line of protecting a person's image and having restrictive intellectual property laws. Critics say at some point, artistic works and images ought to be used freely as part of the public's cultural heritage.

Critics also fear that expanded intellectual property laws could result in fees charged to Elvis lookalikes or children dressed up as their favorite stars on Halloween.


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