Through the efforts of New York-based SAG-AFTRA members, the New York state Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that finally updates the right of publicity and also prohibits the distribution of digitally created, sexually explicit performances without clear performer consent. The bill, which unanimously passed the New York Senate 60–0 and overwhelmingly passed the New York Assembly 140–1 in July, is a milestone in the union’s continued efforts to protect performers against digital image and voice exploitation.
The bill keeps New York’s protections against the use of a living person’s image and voice, including their “digital avatar and digital voice,” in advertising and trade firmly intact, and continues the trend of protecting against uses in expressive works unless the use is clearly permitted by the First Amendment. The bill, for the first time in 36 years, also prohibits the use of a deceased individual’s voice and image in advertising and for purposes of trade. This glaring oversight in right of publicity jurisprudence has finally been fixed thanks to the work of our members in New York. In addition, the bill prohibits deceptive uses of a deceased performer’s digital image and voice in expressive works. And finally, the bill contains strict prohibitions against the distribution of digitally created, sexually explicit works, sometimes known as “deepfakes,” without clear and written approval from the performer depicted.
“This bill is a remarkable step in the ongoing effort to protect our members, and all performers, from the exploitation of our images and voices — the very assets we use to make a living. Not only that, we have finally protected the families of deceased performers from having to see their loved ones’ images and voices exploited for others’ gain,” said SAG-AFTRA Executive Vice President and New York Local President Rebecca Damon. “As technology continues to evolve and become more accessible to those both inside and outside of the industry, it is up to us to make sure our work, our likeness and our legacy are used fairly and consensually.”
We look forward to the governor signing the bill, expected no later than the end of this year, and to seeing the hard work of our member advocates become law in New York.