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Can Voice Artists Be Held Responsible For What's Read in a Script?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

February 12, 2009

Comments (13)

Rob SciglimpagliaWhen you perform a voice over, is there the potential for you to be held responsible for what you're saying even though you aren't the party that is being portrayed in the advertisement or voice over recording?

You bet your bottom dollar, there is!

Hear the perspective of lawyer and voice artist, Rob Sciglimpaglia on VOX Daily as he addresses this interesting and timely issue.

Connected By Association?

Last week, I received an email from one of our customers and readers of the VOX Daily blog asking a question and presenting a potential topic for discussion.

Here's the question:

"I am seeing a rash of law firm ads running on cable regarding Mesothelioma, urging people who have been diagnosed with the disease or exposed to asbestos to contact the firm. Several of these have the announcer state either at the beginning or end that he is 'not an attorney spokesperson'.

Typically, an attorney doing his own commercial will identify himself as an attorney. When and why has it become necessary for an announcer to say he's NOT an attorney? Do we, as hired talent, now have to worry about being held responsible for what we read from a script?"

Rob Sciglimpaglia's Take

The answer to the first part of the question is that the reason for this "disclaimer" that the announcer is not an attorney is necessary for attorneys to comply with Legal Ethics Rules concerning Attorney Advertising. If an attorney does an advertisement, he or she is NOT allowed to do anything that may "mislead" a potential client. And since an attorney must be LICENSED to practice law, one cannot hold themselves out as an attorney/expert to the public. As such, an announcer in a legal ad must make it CLEAR that they are NOT an attorney or other expert providing legal advice so that the potential client is not misled.

This issue is NOT an issue the announcer has to worry about, but it is an issue that the Law Firm has to worry about to comply with Ethical Rules.

As far as the 2nd part of the question about whether voice talent have to worry about being held responsible for what they read in a script, the answer is YES!

Here is an excerpt of an article I wrote that deals with this issue:

Celebrity Impersonating

One area of the industry that voice-over artists should be cognizant of is celebrity impersonating. Celebrity impersonating falls under the auspices of the area of law known as "right of publicity" laws. The right of publicity is the right of an individual to commercially exploit their name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness.

A handful of States have specific laws concerning the "right of publicity" and some other States that do not have a statute follow the common law rules concerning the right of publicity.

"Right of Publicity" laws would allow a celebrity to sue a voice talent who impersonates their voice for commercial purposes. Nevada's statute, however, specifically exempts impersonators from liability for infringement of a celebrity's right of publicity.

Such an exemption does not exist in other State's statutes, however, so a voice-over artist must always be alert when asked to impersonate a celebrity as to how the impersonation will be used. In general, the First Amendment allows certain uses of impersonations, but generally not when those impersonations are meant to generate profits. Such profit making use most certainly can expose both the voice talent, and the producer of the spot to a lawsuit.

This goes for impersonating celebrities who are either alive or deceased, as many Statutes provide a protection to the celebrity for some years after they have died. For instance, in Nevada, the celebrity is protected for fifty (50) years after death, where in Indiana the protection remains for one hundred (100) years. For deceased celebrities, their heirs will be the ones deciding who is able to use their loved one's likeness and who cannot.

Product Endorsements

Another potential snake pit for the voice-over artist is in the area of product endorsements.
Product Liability laws in the United States are generally designed to protect the consumer from dangerous or defective products. These laws are usually couched in terms of "strict liability" rather than "ordinary negligence". This means that anyone involved with the manufacture, sale, or distribution of a product that causes an injury to the end user can not only be sued by the injured party, but will also be held strictly liable without the need for the injured party to prove that the defendants did anything negligent. The simple fact that the product was put into commerce and caused an injury, in many jurisdictions, is enough for the injured party to recover.

In addition, there are a variety of consumer protection laws, unfair trade practice statutes and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations and guidelines designed to protect consumers from being ripped off by false and misleading advertisements.

This raises an interesting question concerning whether a voice-over artist is hired to record a commercial that says something like: "This drug is THE best out there for the prevention and cure of this disease, and I personally guarantee it will work for you" and the drug ends up killing the user, whether the voice-over artist could be held liable for that "guarantee."

If the voice-over artist were a celebrity, then they certainly could be sued under a number of theories, including product liability, but also consumer protection statutes, and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines against false and misleading advertising. One is reminded of the series of lawsuits against Robin Leach back in 1999 where at least a dozen Attorney's General across the country sued him for endorsing vacation packages in both television and radio ads that turned out to be bogus.

Although one must wonder if such lawsuits would be brought against non-celebrity voice talent that are not so "high profile", one of the functions of an Attorney General is to discover collectible assets that could be attached to pay back "victims" of false and misleading ads, or to pay back "victims" of dangerous products, so the possibility certainly exists that such a lawsuit could be brought against a voice-over artist that has some assets.

Wow, there's some food for thought!

My thanks to Rob Sciglimpaglia for lending his ears and expertise to this question.

Any Comments?

Looking forward to continuing the conversation with you. Jump in!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

Related Topics: Celebrities, Celebrity, entertainment, hired, industry, law, lawyer, legal, radio, Rob Sciglimpaglia, scripts, United States, voice acting, voice overs, voice talent


Comments


    What an insightful and informative article. Definitely gives one pause, especially to the "impersonators". I have one in my demos that will be investigated thoroughly before I use it again...only because things have to be done correctly, not out of fear. I actually thought my Jack Benny and Rochester inpressions were pretty good.

    Posted by:

      Another interesting article. I feel fortunate that until now I've only been impersonating celebs in non-commercial comedies and parodies but never in a commercial. The reason is that I always thought it to be unfair to speak with someone else's voice unless everybody knows it's an impersonation. In comedy I love it, but I wouldn't want people to think Sean Connery is telling them to buy a car when it's actually me. My Yoda voice for GPS has always been marketed as an impersonation.

      Posted by:

        Stephanie, that article was awesome! Seriously, those are things I would NEVER have considered but it really does make you think about personal responsibility and how it affects VO people. Thanks for that!

        Posted by:

          Thank you Stephanie and Rob for that insight into something I never would have thought of. What is the best way for a voice actor to protect themselves? Should we carry insurance and if yes what type?
          Thank you again Rob and Stephanie
          Ron Levine ...Voice Actor
          http://www.ronlevinevoiceactor.com

          Posted by:

            Very informative. Thanks for the info. I will be sure to pass this link along to other voice talent!

            Posted by:

              Hi Ron! There are actually a few ways you should protect yourself in the situation of product endorsements or celebrity impersonations. Firstly, you can purchase business insurance, and many cover these types of losses. Second, and most importantly is TO MAKE SURE YOU INDEMNIFY YOURSELF IN YOUR CONTRACT WITH THE PRODUCER!! Put language in the written contract saying that the PRODUCER is responsible, and not you, if a lawsuit is brought by the celebrity or an injured party for a product endorsement. The language should also state the Producer will agree to assume the cost of DEFENDING you in the event of a lawsuit.

              Rob S.

              Posted by:

                Very good and informative article! Thanks a lot! The strange thing with all this is: if a commercial would not have been produced in audio, but it's text printed as an ad in a newspaper, who would ever come up with the idea to sue the printery? ;-)
                Thomas

                Posted by:

                  Yes, excellent. I've been shocked recently by all the job offers for "celebrity" voices... with no disclaimer in the copy. How sleazy - and unnecessary. There are a million ways to sell a product without resorting to fakery. As voice actors we should "Just say no." (Nancy Reagan voice impersonated)

                  Posted by:

                    I was recently hired to do a testimonial - and when I did a quick search around the net for the particular product I was touting, I found a few negative comments on consumer scam sites - not exactly a marker for a scam, but certainly someone was disgruntled. Where do you draw the line on accepting work of this nature? I'm sure it is a combination of gut feelings, personal values and potential legal issues. But auditions for "testimonials" come into my In Box quite frequently...most seem fairly non-controversial, but occasionally, I get one that raises red flags. Would a clause like you state above protect you?

                    Posted by:

                      Hi Connie! Where to draw the line is a tricky question. At a MINIMUM, putting that language into the contract protects you a bit. However, if you are doing a product testimonial for something that may cause potential physical harm and you're not sure about it, and you are using strong language in it like "I guarantee it will work", etc, it would be best to "pass" on such a gig, in my opinion. For non controversial stuff, this should not pose a problem. Like you imply in your post, (and like I always say), "your best defense is common sense."

                      Posted by:

                        I thought for sure you were going to quote actual suits of voice over actors. It was quite a good read, to say we are talking about IP and EL.

                        Posted by:

                          Over the last couple of years I've had some serious questions regarding voice actors doing testimonials (especially for products that I've never seen and in some cases haven't hit the market). I suspect it's just a matter of time before actors doing testimonials will be losing their shirts!

                          Posted by:
                          • si hawk
                          • September 8, 2009 4:32 PM

                            What about using a product or company name in a demo which is not an endorsement or a testimonial?

                            Posted by:
                            • Brian55
                            • January 25, 2011 11:39 AM

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