Hologram Musicians: The Legal Implications
Before spending millions of dollars to create a "hologram" of your favorite dead musician, perhaps find a lawyer. Unless, of course, you enjoyed getting sued.
There's no denying that the "hologram" of Tupac Shakur that debuted at Coachella this year is provocative. Some see the visual effect as a celebration of a well-regarded rapper's legacy. Others see the spectacle as a disturbing example of the uncanny valley theory on a particularly grand scale.
No matter what the opinion, "Hologram Tupac" is a testament to how far special effects have come in the last couple of decades. But this isn't the first time performers cleverly conjured up a deceased musician's image to attract attention - or make a profit. It's just that this particular instance wasn't nefarious or nonsensical. Shakur worked with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg when he was alive, so it wasn't too much of a stretch that he would perform alongside them.
But other artists scheming to bring popular musicians back from the dead through super-cool optical illusions may want to examine certain legal considerations closely.
Yvette Joy Liebesman, an assistant professor at St. Louis University Law School, told RFT Music in a telephone interview that there are a few issues that may haunt an artist that uses a dead musican's image or music without permission. The first consideration is the right of publicity, which Liebesman describes as using "somebody else's image to sell a person's stuff."
"So, if you're putting out an album like Natalie Cole doing a duet with her father who's been deceased for many years... obviously she has the rights somehow through her mother or her father," Liebesman says. "Obviously it wasn't hard for her to get the permission to do this. Most of us aren't that lucky if we want to do something like that."
The law varies by state when it comes to granting the right of publicity to deceased individuals. Liebesman says in New Yorkers have to be alive to exercise a right to publicity. Estates of deceased individuals can claim such a right in California, which is home to oodles of celebrities.
The next thing to consider is the right of trademark. That right, Liebesman says, shields against a situation where a deceased individual seems to be giving support to something out-of-character. A comical example of this would occur if Hologram Tupac appeared at a Soulja Boy concert and bragged about how great "Turn My Swag On" is compared to his music.