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Enterprise Updated: 21 Aug 2017

The legal battle in the world of so-called holograms

The companies using technology to "resuscitate" the deceased on stage and screen have run into the long arm of the law.


In August 2012, Freddy Mercury was brought to life again to mark the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games held in the British capital. A few months earlier, in Coachella in Indio (California), Tupac Shakur reappeared on stage, 15 years after being gunned down in a street in Las Vegas on the way home from a Mike Tyson fight. With his companions Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dree –both living–, he once again performed in a concert. Next year in 2016 the American singer Whitney Houston –who died four years ago– is also expected to reappear on the same Californian stage.

The business fever around the world of these misnamed holograms appears to be limitless. As explained in this article published in El País: “The public in general and the press in particular like to call it a hologram, although this is a misnomer (...) The device is conceived more like the theatrical trick invented by the chemist John Henry Pepper, which was used in 1862 in the play by Charles Dickens entitled The haunted man . There the deception was achieved with a pane of glass on which was projected an image reflected from a mirror offstage. Now the heavy pane of glass has been replaced by an invisible screen. This is placed with an inclination of 45° and offers the very vivid impression that the artist is really performing live”.

Whether or not it's called a hologram, there's no question that the craze is far from over. And it continues to move money. The Greek multimillionaire Alki David –whose company Hologram USA specializes in reviving celebrities– has already invested 15 million dollars. In a small room in Beverly Hills you can see Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Mariah Carey, Mick Jagger and Sinatra. He also makes the real-life Julian Assange and Edward Snowden engage in a lively conversation.

And although at the start it looked like holograms were going to feature prominently in concerts in US and European capitals, their cost– the two songs by the rapper Tupac cost around 400,000 dollars– and the legal battle launched by two companies in the sector have quelled the entertainment sector's holographic fever.

Days before the Billboard Music Awards ceremony in 2014, which was expected to feature a hologram of Michael Jackson, the owners of the technology used to digitally revive the rapper Tupac Shakur asked the American law courts to ban the use of their techniques to project a hologram of the King of Pop. Hologram USA Inc. and Musion Das Hologram Ltd. sued Jackson's heirs, arguing that they were the patent holders for the technology that creates the 3D images and projects them onstage to look like they're actually performing alongside other live musicians. This was not the first legal battle in the world of holograms. Hologram USA also sued the Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts International for their hit show entitled "Michael Jackson ONE" in Las Vegas. The show included a presentation of a digital version of Jackson, which the company claims is an unlawful use of their technology.

The legal battle in the world of holograms has only just begun –a battle fought by the living who want to revive, if only for a few minutes, the dead.