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Gerald-Esquire, Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 3992
Experience:  30 years of experience.
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FOR A LAWYER: I'm a playwright from New York. I want to know

Customer Question

FOR A LAWYER: I'm a playwright from New York. I want to know if I can legally write a biographical musical play about Frank Sinatra's life. I would use original music since I know I can't get the actual licenses to his songs. Also, the play puts him in a totally positive light, no controversy or negative take. If I've conducted my research from public sources, can I do this without getting the consent of the family since he's a public figure?
Submitted: 9 months ago.
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Expert:  Gerald-Esquire replied 9 months ago.

Thank you for using Just Answer. Please bear with me while I review your question. I will respond fully shortly. Thank you for your patience.

Customer: replied 9 months ago.
Ok thank you
Expert:  Gerald-Esquire replied 9 months ago.


Thank you for your patience and thank you for using Just Answer. I want to provide you the best service I can. Please feel free to ask any follow up questions you have.

I am an attorney with 30 years of experience; I hope to provide you information that will help you in resolving your question.

The short answer to your question is that YES you may write and publish and produce a biographical play/musical about a person without obtaining their permission or the permission of their estate.

Your question is a little more complicated than that answer because the answer meets in the middle between State laws pertaining to Rights of Publicity and the rights of an Author under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

However, it is fairly well established law that Unauthorized Biographies are protected speech under the First Amendment.

For a detailed and lengthy discussion of this issue the following article may prove useful:

I hope the information I provide is useful to you. I want you to be comfortable and satisfied with my attempt to assist you. Please, if you have ANY follow up questions, feel free to ask. Please note that I am generally unavailable Friday evening through Sunday.

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Good luck.

Please note: Information is educational and not given as legal advice. Only your local attorney can give legal advice. I can't establish or accept an attorney-client relationship with you. All posts are available for public viewing.

Kind regards,


Customer: replied 9 months ago.
Thank you Gerald. The only follow up I have is this. Would it still fall under 1st amendment protection if I am Portraying Frank Sinatra in a stage production as opposed to just writing "about" him?
Expert:  Gerald-Esquire replied 9 months ago.

You can portray him in the context of the biographical play. It is the context of the play and it is protected speech.

Expert:  Gerald-Esquire replied 9 months ago.

Take a look at the article I linked to you. Your situation is similar to the biographical portrayals in books and film. The First Amendment protects your right to do so. For example perhaps you saw the recent bios on Robin Williams. We would not be able to have biographical studies if the Right of Publicity laws prohibited such portrayals.

What you can not do is use his likeness purely for a commercial purpose such as Advertisements.

Kind regards,


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