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Salinger and speech: Lynch gets it right
It was Gov. John Lynch vs. the family of J.D. Salinger last week. Lynch won, for which we all should be thankful.
Salinger’s family had asked New Hampshire to give families and estates full legal rights to any commercial use of a deceased person’s likeness. Legislators complied by passing Senate Bill 175. On Tuesday, Lynch wisely vetoed it.
Salinger’s son was eloquent in support of the bill. He had seen photos of his famously reclusive father, who died in 2010, sold after his death. He wanted to control his father’s image as much as his father had. That is understandable, but problematic. You cannot simply ban everyone from using the image of any deceased person without permission, which is very close to what SB 175 did.
The House removed from the bill a list of exemptions for artistic and journalistic uses of a person’s likeness. As written, it would have stifled free speech rights. It would have been challenging, for example, to make a film about a deceased individual or publish old photographs that included images of people who had died.
“Legislation that could have the impact of restricting free speech must be carefully considered and narrowly tailored,” Lynch wrote in his veto message. “SB 175 does not meet that test, in that it fails to distinguish clearly between commercial versus journalistic or expressive uses of identity.”
The veto was appropriate. Salinger strictly controlled his image partly for artistic reasons. He wanted people to judge his art on its own, not through the prism of his likeness. His right to do that, however, cannot infringe on the expressive rights of others.
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