Minnesota lawmakers propose bizarre, dangerous PRINCE law

Minnesota's SF3609, the Personal Rights in Names Can Endure (PRINCE) Act, is the broadest, most ill-considered publicity rights bill in American history.

It was rushed into the legislature after the sad and untimely death of Prince Rogers Nelson, Minneapolis's favorite son. As Mike Masnick points out, laws rushed out in response to current events are always bonkers, but the PRINCE Act attains a new level of badness.

The Act would establish a "publicity" right — the right to control the use of your name and likeness — intended to prevent the unscrupulous exploitation of Prince's legacy now that he's dead. Many states have publicity rates (though Minnesota doesn't), and while some are prone to abuse, the idea of being able to stop someone from deceptively using your face to advertise their products is a good one.

Which brings us to the PRINCE Act, which goes much further: it establishes, a retroactive, perpetual right of Minnesotans to control virtually all uses of their name and likeness, with the exception of news, sports reporting or public affairs broadcasts. It's so broad that it would possibly ban itself. It would ban Creative Commons licensed pictures of Prince in concert. It would ban novels about Prince fans.

EFF has an online petition to the Minnesota Legislature calling on them to scrap the Act.

Publicity rights are an increasingly dangerous weapon against legitimate speech. But this rushed Minnesota proposal is the worst we've seen so far. For one thing, rather than setting a maximum term, it actually sets a minimum term (50 years) and will allow an estate to keep asserting the right to control uses of a celebrity's name and likeness forever, unless and until someone can prove that they've abandoned it. As a practical matter, that means heirs could use this right to control many uses of a work created by a celebrity even after the copyright has long since expired. Suppose that when Prince's works finally enter the public domain in 2086, a group of fans wants to throw a benefit concert featuring Prince songs. Under copyright law, that would be fine. But under the proposed Minnesota law, they couldn't use Prince's name.

The proposed bill would also allow a celebrity's estate to seek more than financial compensation: it can also get a court order taking content offline. In the internet context, this kind of seizure almost always sweeps up perfectly legitimate speech – it is difficult to "seize" just part of a website.

There are a lot of other problems with the bill, such as vague and limited protections for fair uses (watch out, fan sites!), and a misguided characterization of the right of publicity as a "property" right. As we've seen with copyrights and trademarks, treating limited monopolies in certain expression as a "property" leads people to embrace broad and dangerous new forms of protection for that "property."

Tell Minnesota Lawmakers: Reject the PRINCE Act [EFF]

Minnesota Legislators Go Crazy, Pushing Dangerous PRINCE Act
[Corynne McSherry/EFF]

(Image: Prince at Coachella, Penner, CC-BY-SA)