Publicity Rights Bill Under Consideration In Special Session

May 19, 2016

Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call for a special session includes legislation to protect a person’s identity or likeness from being used for commercial purposes without their permission. Republican Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale is sponsoring the bill, which is a revised version of a measure vetoed by the governor last year.

Woods says the current bill is a compromise that preserves the rights of individual citizens and news agencies to distribute images they have taken in the general public.

“What we’re trying to do is just protect someone’s identity from being used for commercial profit without their permission. But what we don’t want to do is infringe on individuals’ First Amendment rights and freedom of speech,” he says.

Woods says he wants to pass the bill in the special session because he is not running for another term.

“I won’t be back. So this is my last opportunity to close this chapter because I was the original sponsor of the bill,” he says.  

The bill was prompted by the family of former Arkansas Razorbacks football coach Frank Broyles, over concerns his likeness could be used without permission on commercial products. The bill is called "The Frank Broyles Publicity Rights Protection Act of 2016." It is supported by the Motion Picture Association of America, Facebook and Google, but is opposed by players associations of several professional sports leagues.

Betsy Broyles Arnold, who runs a foundation for Alzheimer’s caregivers that bears the family name, led the recent push to get a publicity rights bill on the books in Arkansas.

“Everybody should have that right. It’s really not just about us. Everybody in the state of Arkansas should have that right,” she says.

The Motion Picture Association of America originally opposed the measure during the 2015 regular session. But Vans Stevenson, Senior Vice President of Government says the revised bill’s “exemption for expressive works” provides a proper balance between the rights of an individual--such as a celebrity whose image may be in high demand--and the rights of the general public or media groups.

“By [including the exemption], that prevents frivolous and unwarranted and unnecessary litigation that we or others can face, whether that be a newspaper or a book publisher,” Stevenson says.

Stevenson says about half of states have publicity rights laws.