South Dakota State Representative Elizabeth May is currently pushing a bill to establish a “Right of Publicity” in South Dakota’s legislative body. The legislation was inspired by Pearl Means’ efforts to establish a museum honoring her late husband, American Indian Movement leader Russell Means.
It seeks to prohibit unauthorized commercial use of a personality’s right of publicity and allow for the collection of damages if said persona were to be unlawfully profited off of.
Factors such as a figure’s name, voice, and appearance would be barred from commercial use without direct permission from the personality.
Russell Means was a key player in the fight for Native rights in the late 20th century. His work on the front lines of the American Indian Movement made lasting impressions on Native activism. Later in life, he appeared in films such as “Last of the Mohicans” and “Natural Born Killers.” Means died in 2012 at age 72.
Lakota People’s Law Project has met with Russell Means on several occasions and his wife, Pearl, is currently on our board. As such, we are committed to any bill that protects his impressive legacy.
“It is not only going to protect Mr. Means’ legacy, but it’s also going to protect his family,” May says in regards to the proposed museum, “This is a perfect way to send a message that the legacy of Russell Means, whether you agreed or disagreed with him politically, he was a huge influence for the Native American people.”
In last week’s Senate meeting, representatives from the Motion Picture Association came forward in support of the proposition. Opponents included members of national sports associations.
New York City lawyer Kevin Goering says the effects of this bill could have lasting, negative effects on publicity norms far outside of South Dakota, “It’s important because these statutes, one by one, add to the nationwide pattern of the right of publicity and how it is enacted state by state.”
We remain hopeful that a compromise can be found to honor public personalities with integrity while staying while recongizing the complexity of modern media. The Lakota People’s Law Project supports Pearl Means’ museum plans and wishes a clear path to fruition for her and her family.