Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Own's The Dead?

Or, perhaps more fully phrased as; can the dead retain "rights"?

In comments to this film review of the then-recently released James Cameron film Avatar by Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon, I said in part:

I forget who's scifi story I read it in (lo, these many years ago now), but the idea put forth was that technology had developed to the point that it allowed then-living actors to emulate long dead performers (who already had an established marquee value) in new on-screen entertainment productions. For the life of me, I can't see how the technology behind Avatar wouldn't allow this to actually occur now. Mind you, I'm not looking forward to watching "John Wayne" and a 13 y/o "Brooke Shields" as they star in the new production Rio Blue Lagoon, but I don't doubt someone in Hollywierd will try that very thing some day too soon. Or worse.

The possibilities are a bit frightening actually, given the degree to which people's experience has trained them to associate a broadcast image with the person being depicted. If someone used the Avatar technology to film an actor killing a person, and the crime was actually committed, what with all the physical evidence of a murder having occured, could you prove that wasn't actually you in the video of the killing posted on You Tube? Or the President or the Pope, as the case may be? The possibilities are ... interesting, aren't they?


While trying to be somewhat provocative yet mindful of courtesy on another's blog page, I may have mis-served my objective.

Expanding upon my initial (and thankfully still hypothetical as of yet) example, what are the property rights (amongst other) complications deriving from the example I offered above? Imagine if you will, an explicitly pornographic "entertainment" (pre-supposing that actual film and present-technology digital media aren't the only distribution possibilities) depicting the physical image of John Wayne from the motion picture Rio Bravo in a graphic display of sexual congress (or, in more sailorly terms: a two-fisted three-holer) with the film image of the then-13 y/o Brooke Shields from the motion picture Pretty Baby combined with her performance two years later in The Blue Lagoon, giving rise to my speculative title; "Rio Blue Lagoon".

Let me take just a moment to acknowledge both that, not only is the ever-lovely Brooke not dead yet, Mrs. Henchy is eminently capable of defending her own interests. In the present circumstance, what she provides is the context for a rare alignment of interests (mine); speculation on the possible ramifications of future developments, individual rights, strategy and smokin' hot babes. Not necessarily in that order of precedence.

Returning to Mr. Cameron's technical triumph (and I don't believe it can honestly be described as anything less), there do seem to be a number of unintended consequences to his quest for the 2.5 billion dollar gross. The possibility I raised first on The Speculist has now been considered by none other than Brian Wang of the Lifeboat Foundation and principal author of the Next Big Future blog, where-in he also notes the less light-hearted possibilities:

"There is also the increased possibility of fake news interviews. The image of President Obama could be made to say or do anything. Similarly for Osama bin Laden."

Drawing inspiration from the recent electoral event in Massachusetts, consider the following:

Dressed in casual attire, Senatorial candidate Scott Brown is seen leaning against a parked pick-up truck's rear fender, speaking into the camera. While he does so, the nude figure of Martha Coakley is seen in the near background entering into the sex act with an heroically priapic Sen. Edward Kennedy while he rests his buttocks against a low bridge railing.

It almost doesn't matter what verbal content is conveyed by such a video appearing on YouTube, Vimeo and all the rest of the on-line outlets available, the visual one is the message. The image technology displayed in Avatar makes this type of moving image's falsehood essentially undetectable to all but the most in-depth examination of the process by which it was created, I believe (those with actual detailed knowledge of the technology's limitations are encouraged to step in here - all I've got is how it has been publicly characterised to this point).

Possibly even more inimical is that precisely the same "performance" could be created by supporters of either of the two actual Senatorial candidates - to equal effect. Dueling douche-baggery, if you will.

Mr. Brown's (either of us actually, but "the other" is most pertinent to this discussion, he selflessly asserts :)) history of apparent casualness regarding personal nudity plays into such an accusation of attacking an opponent in this fashion. Similarly, the predictable response of "shocked" "violation", "virtual rape" and similar vociferous pronouncements from the Coakley camp.

All of which distract from my question today: what (if any) rights are retained by Mr. Kennedy, or his estate, in such a now-plausible scenario in light of Mr. Cameron's visually stunning achievement?

Understand, all of the "actors" in the foregoing little (and also thankfully still hypothetical) drama would be performed by real, living people who's images were subsequently re-worked with Avatar-type technology to seamlessly appear as presented above. The two candidates at least would still have the option to pursue recourse under existing laws governing electoral practices if in no other venue. Mr. Kennedy isn't afforded that opportunity any longer and I'm unclear on what alternative option might plausably be pursued, and by which "offended" parties, under any existing US legal construct (leaving for the moment the more direct time-honored methodology that modern social and legal institutions frown upon).

The actors could claim legal innocence plausibly enough. If the post-production work was done outside US legal jurisdiction, I'm not sure any recourse via the courts would be possible under current legal codes.

For myself, I think the concept of property extending to one's image is well-enough established that a straight-forward extension of that concept into perpetuity as the default legal standard doesn't seem that contorted. Such a legal position allows for added revenue possibilities for individuals as well as those who also hold more limited rights to someone's visual image, along with further complication of estate planning, but these are details that markets are well demonstrated to sort out given a sufficiently solid demarcation within which to do so.

Any thoughts? Mrs. Henchy per chance? :)