Washington Journal of Law, Technology & Arts


Stephen Anson


Modern technology allows for the holographic reproduction of a dead artist’s likeness, with the ability to perform past classic works or new original artistic works. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance by the “holographic” Tupac Shakur in April 2012 dazzled an excited crowd and made the idea of bringing back deceased musical celebrities or other public personalities a reality. The use of such holographic performances is in its infancy, but the potential for possible intellectual property infringement is real and concerns the areas of copyright, trademark, and–most importantly–the right of publicity, which protects a celebrity’s name, likeness, voice and mannerisms. This new technology also creates the possibility of re-creating a past celebrity for nefarious purposes, but it is unclear what legal protections are available to the decedent’s estate to challenge such potentially damaging uses. The right of publicity is a matter of state law, is granted in thirty-one states, and is extended post-mortem in only twenty of those states. Therefore, understanding what legal protections are available requires a complex examination of all relevant jurisdictions’ intellectual property laws. Celebrities, public figures, and estate planners should be mindful of these new technologies, establish domicile in states with robust rights of publicity, and draft wills accordingly to ensure greatest posthumous protection.

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