Celebrity likeness rights vary around the country, with stars’ estates in California enjoying 70 years of protection. Indiana offers 100 years and 16 other states have laws protecting celebrities’ likenesses, said Jeremiah Reynolds, an attorney with the firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump and Aldisert. The firm handles numerous intellectual property issues, including those related to Michael Jackson’s estate.
While holograms are likely covered by existing laws, potential legal challenges will likely focus on whether the performance is protected by the First Amendment. “You get into very subjective areas about what is artistic,” Reynolds said.
Courts have been divided about whether a work featuring a celebrity — or one closely based on a star — is transformative and warrants its own protection, or infringement, Reynolds said.
Marilyn Monroe’s estate threatened legal action earlier this year against a company claiming it was working on a digital show using the model-actress’ likeness. The technology for holograms or other digital performances are intriguing, the estate’s handlers at Authentic Brands say, but they would only partner with people who could make a top-notch product.
Brown and Atwell said they felt enormous pressure to make sure the Shakur performance was worthy of being an introduction to a new form of live entertainment.
“I also hope that the people who do follow us do it with the same care and the same sense of dedication because I would hate to see a bad version of Marilyn Monroe, a bad version of Elvis up there,” Brown said.
Brown and Atwell are proud that Shakur is leading the hologram revolution.
“We’re part of the hip-hop generation,” Brown said. “It shows the growth of that culture, of that business and it says a lot about what we’ve dedicated part of our lives to.”
“There was a time, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, when people were waiting for hip-hop to disappear,” he said. “Now not only is hip-hop here to stay, even if you die we’ll bring you back.”