Kelly O’Brien looks like Dolly Parton, sounds like Dolly Parton and has even been endorsed by the country legend herself.
But she’s among a community of tribute acts who say Facebook rules are seeing their pages shut down, as the platform doesn’t allow people to pretend to be someone well known or speak for them without permission.
O’Brien, who has been performing as Dolly for years, had 4,500 followers to her page which was recently taken down, and says she built those up after a page she had with 15,000 followers was taken down last year.
She says it’s devastating.
“This is my full-time job – it’s not something that I do on the side.
“This is something I take very seriously, I work really hard, I pay a lot of money – like [Dolly Parton] says, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!
“And then all of a sudden, all that work you put into your business, it’s just gone, and you’re like, ‘Wow, where do I go now?’… So, it’s very sad.”
Facebook’s parent company Meta says they do allow fan pages but require users to make it clear that they are not the actual celebrity and are not “speaking in the voice of” that person or act.
Hayleigh Bosher is a senior lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at Brunel University.
She says Facebook – and other sites – are following rules designed to protect artists.
“From the perspective of the social media platform, they have to make sure they’re upholding the rights of rightsholders to avoid being sued themselves.
“So that’s the reason why they’re probably seen as quite proactive in taking down content because we have these rules in copyright that say if the platform enables the copyright infringement then they can become liable.
“But if they take it down then they’re protected – so that’s why they will be quite proactive about having a system in place.”
As the price of concert tickets continues to rise and some artists retire from touring altogether, finding an alternative version of their favourite star is really the only option for many fans.
And for those whose careers rely on impersonation, not being able to share details of their shows with their fanbase on social media is fatal.
“On your page comes: ‘We have community standards against impersonation’ and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s actually my job’!” Said O’Brien.
“So, this is crazy, right? It’s just crazy that this can happen, and it’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to hundreds of tributes, impersonators, and some drag queens.
“Where else, if you love Dolly Parton, where are you going to go? Except to see a tribute and you want them to be as good as possible, and especially for artists that have passed – Whitney Houston, George Michael – these people are keeping the music alive.”
Facebook say they’re working to reinstate O’Brien’s page but for many others the conflict remains – championing tributes while abiding by copyright rules designed to protect the original artists.