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Legislation Proposed to Protect Hawai‘i's Cultural Icons From Being Exploited After Passing

Proposed legislation would protect the persona of Hawai'i's cultural icons who have since passed.

Duke Kahanamoku, Patsy Mink, Eddie Aikau. What do they all have in common? They’ve all since passed away, and the rights to their persona – things like their name, voice, and likeness – are at risk of being used by others for commercial gain.

The 2009 Hawai‘i Publicity Rights Act was meant to protect the personas of the island’s musicians, entertainers, and cultural icons – both living and dead. But a recent lawsuit held that the Act did not protect the publicity rights of a person who died prior to the law’s enactment.

“The heirs of the following individuals have absolutely no protection under the law,” says Honolulu intellectual property lawyer Bill Meyers, “So Aunty Genoa Keawe – no protection. Don Ho – no protection. Israel Kamakawiwo?ole – no protection.”

Meyers, who’s represented entertainers and public figures for more than 40 years, says Senate Bill 714 aims to close this legislative loophole.

“What the bill does is recognize this thing called post-mortem rights to publicity and there’s technological language that has to be used to make it clear that it is the legislature’s intent that the bill apply to people that died prior to the Act,” says Meyers.

Meyers says 38 other states have enacted similar laws recognizing post-mortem rights to publicity. The state Senate unanimously passed SB 714. The bill now goes before the House Committee on Economic Development for a hearing today at 11 a.m.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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