For more than five years, members of the Massachusetts legislature have been trying to pass a bill for Bill. Cosby that is.
Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Cosby, who has a home in Shelburne Falls in Franklin County, was behind proposed legislation that, if passed, would have shielded his identity for 70 years after his death. From an article on MassLive earlier this year (emphasis ours):
“For someone who has worked long and hard on a career to perfect an image, a personality, that image has value during a lifetime and also during death,” said Melinda Phelps, a Springfield attorney representing comedian Bill Cosby, who supports the bill. “The ability to protect it from exploitation after death is very important.”
The bill would protect the name, likeness, voice, or signature of a celebrity from use for commercial purposes … The bill applies to use of the person’s image on a commercial product or in commercial advertising or fundraising.
We know. We know. She actually implied Cosby worked hard to perfect his image. Not too hard, it seems, but nonetheless …
The bill, pitched unsuccessfully in three consecutive two-year sessions, was chiefly sponsored by State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, who is the commonwealth’s next Senate president. Specifically, the measure would have prohibited the following types of entities from using any aspect of a dead celebrity’s identity (so long as those celebs held residence here):
… any individual, firm, association, partnership, corporation, joint stock company, limited liability company, syndicate, receiver, common law trust, conservator, statutory trust or any other concern or entity, however named, organized, formed or created; provided, that this shall include not-for-profit corporations, associations, educational and religious institutions, political parties, campaign committees and community, civic and other organizations.
Lucky for Cosby, few people want to use his image anymore, unless you’re talking about teens making memes in their bedrooms. His intellectual estate will soon be less valuable than Sinbad’s, so no concern there. As for the gang on Beacon Hill, let’s just say they narrowly avoided embarrassment, though they probably shouldn’t have.
There may actually be a lesson here for lawmakers. While they’re worrying about whether Steven Tyler’s bones will be used to sell drumsticks 50 years from now, as was noted today by Eileen McNamara at WBUR, there’s a statute of limitations for rape in Massachusetts. She writes:
There is no statute of limitations on murder because no one thinks the passage of time should shield a killer from answering for his crime. Why should perpetrators of the soul-killing act of rape have such a legal escape hatch?
In 34 states they do, with laws that require prosecutors to file charges within time periods ranging from three months to 30 years. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations is 15 years. Victims’ advocates have been filing legislation to eliminate all time limits for decades on Beacon Hill but a Legislature dominated by defense lawyers has been disinclined to act.
What a truly unsettling irony. Almost as ridiculous as Massachusetts legislators would have looked now if they had actually passed the Cosby bill.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.