'PRINCE Act' rushed before Minnesota lawmakers to protect heirs' rights

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Prince at 46th Annual Grammy Awards
Prince performs at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004, in Los Angeles. (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

With reporting from Toni Randolph

UPDATED 11 a.m. with bill details.

Minnesota lawmakers are rushing to enact a law that would restrict the use of Prince's name and likeness in commercial ventures, affording more control to heirs of the late musician's estate.

They're dubbing it the PRINCE Act, short for the Personal Rights in Names Can Endure law.

A bill is set for introduction Monday in the House and Senate, with its first committee hearing on Tuesday's docket. The Legislature has two weeks remaining in its session, meaning the bill will have to get special clearance to proceed quickly.

Prince died April 21. A cause of death hasn't been officially released. Since his sudden death, surviving relatives have been unable to locate a will, which has prompted court action to determine how any assets will be divided.

Right now, Bremer Trust is the special administrator for Prince' estate. Joel Leviton, an attorney with the law firm that represents Bremer Trust, said the bill is specific about its protections.

"We're talking about your name, we're talking about your image, we're talking about a photograph of you," he said. "We're talking about, anything that identifies you."

A person's voice would also be covered by the law, which creates a minimum 50-year period of protection after death. the law would take effect in August, but is "expressly made retroactive, including to those deceased individuals who died before the effective date." There is a "fair use" exemption if any in connection with news, public affairs or sports broadcasts.

The measure would apply to everyone, not just celebrities.

If it becomes law, Minnesota would join 17 other states with a right to control publicity that's guaranteed even after death. Supporters say Washington state's law was enacted after the passing of guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

The bill is being introduced by in the House by Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, who lives not far from Prince's Paisley Park.

"I've had people say, `Is it just prompted by the death of Prince?' Yeah, essentially it is. Really, what it's doing is it's attempting to recognize the right of publicity postmortem," Hoppe said.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, is the chief sponsor in the Senate.

If the measure becomes law, it would allow whoever controls Prince's estate to control the commercial use of his image.

The House Civil Law Committee is scheduled to give the bill its first hearing on Tuesday and the Senate Judiciary Committee was slated to take a look on Wednesday.


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