Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead celebrities may control a "right of publicity", another possible legal trap for amateurs; looking at Elvis, Michael

On Sunday, Jan. 9 CBS 60 Minutes, in a report by Steve Kroft, explained how the intellectual property rights of dead celebrities makes for big business, as for heirs. One of the businessmen associated with the issue is Mark Roesler.

For “ordinary speakers” the issue is potentially important because apparently dead celebrities retain their “right of publicity”, upon which amateurs could infringe. That would also merge with risks of trademark infringement.

Some of the celebrities covered in the segment included James Dean, Elvis Presley, and now Michael Jackson. The CBS report included a brief visual tour of Presley’s Graceland  (link)  in Memphis. I remember the “controversy” when Presley was drafted.

Roesler is credited for having pressured many states (through legislatures and sometimes the courts) to recognize a “postmortem right of publicity”, which Roesler explained as “We have the right to prevent our name, our likeness, our image, our signature, our voice, from being used in some commercial fashion.” Kroft noted that “the right of publicity” isn’t mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it has always been a recognized source of torts in common law, and many states regulate it.

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