Political Figures in Commercials

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Chu Gai, Jul 26, 2006.

  1. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    The other day I was watching some commercial and it had Lincoln in it. It got me to wondering how long does a person have to be dead before their likeness starts being used to promote something or other? Is it a question of family members still being alive or what? Specifically, I was thinking about JFK and wondering if I'll start seeing his likeness in print, voice, or as an actor promoting something in my lifetime. We could say that's tacky because he was assassinated but then so was Lincoln. What do you think?
     
  2. Paul McElligott

    Paul McElligott Cinematographer

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    No one alive today was born when Lincoln was assassinated. When the last person who remembers 11/22/63 dies, maybe we'll see JFK selling Viagra or something.
     
  3. Julian Reville

    Julian Reville Screenwriter

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    You're gonna have a long wait. I'm planning on living forever.

    So far, so good.
     
  4. andrew markworthy

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    If I remember correctly, under both US and UK law, there's nothing illegal in using the likeness of someone famous for entertainment/advertising provided there's no attempt to defraud.

    Since only someone terminally stupid would think that JFK personally endorsed a product, his likeness could be used now. However, this would be in such appalling bad taste that it's unlikely anyone would do it.

    If I recall correctly, the testimony of his partners is that JFK didn't need anything to get ... um ... active. It was the great speed with which he finished that was the problem.
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    In the U.S., at least, you can't use the likeness of a living famous person without permission, and even dead ones have a surprising degree of protection from commercial exploitation. Copyright and trademark law have been used not only to keep icons like John Wayne and Elvis out of commercials and merchandising deals their heirs wouldn't approve of, but to negotiate lucrative commercial deals for permission to use them. (Anybody remember the John Wayne beer commercial from a couple of years ago? And Elvis's estate generates more income from books, calendars, apparel, and the like every year than The King ever did from record sales or movies.)

    But those examples are based on more recent law and theories of intellectual property, and the specific use of images and iconography crafted with a commercial purpose in the first place. (IBM paid big bucks for using Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character because that uniquely identifiable figure is trademarked.)

    At some point the copyright protection will lapse. Trademark could still attach to things like the Elvis signature, and certain specific images, but I expect eventually he will become simply a "historical" figure and apt to being depicted much the way Lincoln or Washington or Julius Caesar are today.

    (Of course, a lot of the commercial exploitation of Washington and Lincoln come from sales for President's day or their individual birthdays. This in turn accustoms people to such use of their images. JFK's birthday is not a holiday, so people aren't used to seeing his face on newspaper pull-outs announcing sales on sheets, towels and pillow-cases. [​IMG])

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  6. andrew markworthy

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    There must be some leeway on this, since I've seen plenty of US films and TV shows where likenesses of famous people have been used (often to poke fun at the real person) and they can't all have given their permission.
     
  7. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Parodies I believe are exempt. The Larry Flynt Supreme Court case comes to mind.
     
  8. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Given the way the issue was stated in the opening post, I took it as given that we were talking about commercial exploitation, use in advertising, implied product endorsements, etc. Parody and satire aren't commercials exploitation in the strict sense. Political use of images, voices, film, etc. of the living and dead are pretty much a free-fire zone in this country because that's the one form of expression that the Framers indisputably intended to protect. And some non-endorsement use may also be permissible. If I ran a recuiting ad for a volunteer service organization I doubt the Kennedy estate could do anything about it if all I did was quote the line, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Hell, I could probably use that video clip in ad advertisement for a commercial entity announcing a major donation to a charity. ("John F. Kennedy said..." "And in that tradition CrapCo industries is donating 5 million dollars to the survivors of hurricane Katrina." They're quoting him, not implying that he did or would support their company.)

    There are certainly grey areas. But if you slap a picture of Elvis on the popcorn maker you're selling and advertise it as "The one the King used to pop", you're going to be hearing from a few lawyers, I promise you. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  9. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Not if you sell it in China!
     

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