Legal fight to safeguard Diana's voice from exploitation by `soundalike s'

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The Independent Online
Legal action is being taken to prevent the voice of Diana, Princess of Wales being mimicked for commercial purposes. Kathy Marks reports on the latest moves by lawyers to "patent" the Princess.

Proceedings are in motion to trademark Princess Diana's name and image. Now lawyers for her estate are taking steps in the US to guard against unauthorised use of her distinctive tones. The lawyers have discovered that in some American states, such as California and Nevada, it is necessary to register "publicity rights" to prevent use of the name, likeness or voice of a famous person in, for instance, advertising.

The London-based legal firm, Lawrence Graham, which acts for the Princess's estate, has lodged papers to register publicity rights in five states. These will outlaw, among other things, impersonation of her by "soundalikes". Andrew Dobson, a solicitor with Lawrence Graham, said it was part of "our whole effort to protect her memory, her name and her likeness from inappropriate use". It follows action by Mishcon de Reya, the legal firm which manages the Princess's memorial fund, to secure trademark status for her name and image to prevent the sale of unlicensed and tasteless memorabilia. More than 20 pictures charting her life have been sent for registration at the Patent Office in London.

In separate proceedings, at the instigation of the former prime minister John Major, who is acting as legal guardian to Prince William and Prince Harry, lawyers won a court ruling in December that gives executors of the estate an absolute right to license or veto Diana-related souvenirs.

News of the moves in America follow the launch yesterday of an official logo bearing the Princess's signature, again aimed at heading off exploitation by unauthorised commercial traders. In Britain, the common law of "passing off" could be used to prevent a "soundalike" actress from endorsing a product in the Princess's voice.

Mr Dobson said the estate was not seeking to benefit financially from acquiring the publicity rights. It intended to license them to the memorial fund, he said.

The L!ve TV cable channel will next month begin filming a movie about the Princess and her relationship with Dodi Fayed, with the two main characters played by Amy Seccombe and George Jakos. Mishcon de Reya has written to L!ve TV, describing plans for the film as "inappropriate and insensitive", and pointing out that permission was not sought from the Princess's family or lawyers.