Suppose you cause it to be falsely reported that you have died, and your purpose is only to see your enemies gloating over your demise at your funeral and then being disappointed to learn that you are alive. During the rite, you sit up in your coffin and sing an aria. (Suppose the aria is not subject to copyright.)

Would there be legal consequences?

(A character in a certain novel claimed to have done this. I think he said the aria was from the opera Jesse James. I don't think that opera exists in reality.)

  • Would the answer be different if the aria were under copyright? There is a country-and-western rock opera/concept album called The Legend of Jesse James; while I wouldn't normally call a song from such a work an "aria," could this be what the novelist intended? – phoog Oct 13 '16 at 19:30
  • @phoog : The novel was Glory Road by Robert Heinlein, published in about 1965. It could be viewed as an early anti-Vietnam-war thing, although I don't think that was its main point. Oscar, the protagonist, organizes his whole life around the goal of not getting sent to Vietnam. After he is wounded in combat in Vietnam and discharged, he no longer has a central purpose in life, and then he meets a beautiful woman who needs to hire a "hero" to go with her to Nevia and slay dragons with a sword and capture the Egg of the Phoenix. A man named Rufo makes that claim about faking his own death. – Michael Hardy Oct 13 '16 at 21:13
  • @phoog : As to the name of the opera, I'm not sure I recall it correctly. – Michael Hardy Oct 13 '16 at 21:14
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    @user6726 : I specified that the aria is not subject to copyright in order to keep it away from copyright issues. I suspect any questions about copyrights are unaltered by the faking of the death. – Michael Hardy Oct 13 '16 at 21:51
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    As long as you've done no wrong to the publishers of the report, there's no law requiring you to generally disseminate just the truth. You could make a political statement, be sarcastic, be a jerk, or whatever your motive might be. It's only in certain legal interactions that you have to be truthful. – user6726 Oct 14 '16 at 0:27

I'll use Wisconsin as a jurisdiction.

If you file a false death certificate, that's a felony. But you probably wouldn't go that far.

It could be disorderly conduct. In Wisconsin disorderly conduct is described as follows:

Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

There's also a statute prohibiting "Disrupting a funeral or memorial service" but it won't apply in this case unless disorderly conduct applies. It would raise the penalty to a class A misdemeanor (or a class I felony if you somehow did it again after being convicted once.)

On the civil side, there could be an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, either for the false report of your death, or for a "corpse" suddenly coming to life. This kind of lawsuit requires "extreme and outrageous conduct", but if this isn't, I don't know what would be.

  • On the other hand: is a funeral legally still a funeral if the deceased is found to no longer be deceased? – Graeme Rock Jan 16 at 7:46
  • @GraemeRock The statute says "“Funeral or memorial service" ... does not include a service that is not intended to honor or commemorate one or more specific decedents." It was intended that it would commemorate a specific decedent, however, the decedent isn't really a decedent. I don't know how the courts would interpret this. – D M Jan 17 at 18:45

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