By Stephanie Ciccarelli
September 3, 2009
Is it possible to legally perform character voice impressions of celebrities who have died and feature them on a voice over demo that you've uploaded to the Internet for promotional purposes?
How does one go about getting permission? Ask the right people and you'll find out!
Herb Merriweather shares his experience connecting with those involved with the Estate of Jack Benny doing just that.
Being a voice actor has proven to be a blessing--and a challenge! There is a lot of information to absorb and put into practice. Tips on production and equipment; vocal techniques and training; copy writing/editing and marketing--each subject demands our attention at the very least and many times some sort of responsive action is needed.
One such subject that slipped beneath MY radar was the responsibility of voice actors to handle impersonations and impressions with extreme care- realizing that the wrong message or representation without permission could bring negative consequences, maybe even legal action.
I have impressions on my web page but I never gave any thought to legal responsibility until I read a Voices.com article by voice actor/attorney Rob Sciglimpaglia (Vox Daily Feb. 12, 2009).
Robs' insights on 'Right of Publicity' laws let me see my Jack Benny/Eddie Anderson impressions as a possible liability-even though it wasn't being used commercially, it was still available for public scrutiny. Even as both of these radio comedy legends are deceased, their heirs still have the right to decide who uses their "likeness" and how they're used.
So the idea hit me...maybe there IS a way to get permission to use these likenesses in the forum where they are presented. They'd already been on the page for months so something proactive had to be done. Not knowing how to actually contact anyone connected to the Jack Benny Estate, I started where I could-with the president of the Jack Benny Fan Club, Ms. Laura Leff.
I contacted her through the Official Jack Benny Website and explained that, although I had already used Mr. Benny's likeness (removed from the page pending results of my action) on my web page, I couldn't continue using it without permission and could she suggest how to get it. Along with my e-mail I sent a copy of the audio file (impression) in question.
Thirty days later I received this e-mail from Ms. Leff--"...I shared this with the Benny family with the recommendation that they OK it and they are fine with you using it on your resume tape..."
She goes on to say that others are welcome to request permission as well and she encouraged me in my search for the heirs of Eddie Anderson. I'm still waiting for a response from them.
"Ask and it shall be given..." seems like an oversimplification of what happened--however--the very humbling act of asking can sometimes open doors and establish relationships that other wise might never have been explored.
By the way... there are so many talented people who can "do" Jack Benny so much better than I ever could, this really ISN'T about the impression. It's about being diligent in your business practices, learning from others and being flexible enough to adapt to what you've learned.
Once again--information gained from Voices.com helped to save the day...and establish a cool new relationship.
God Bless and Happy Voicing!