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Steve Moore, B.A., J.D. Author Steve has been in the music business for over 30 years! He's worked as a professional musician, producer, and has been involved in almost every aspect of the music business. He's also the author of "The Truth about the Music Business"

Dead Celebrities

This blog falls in line with Publicity Rights and what happens to your publicity rights after you’re gone…

Publicity Rights are not federal – they are state laws.  So it’s taken a while for many states to be brought into the fold in regards to the protection of publicity rights, especially after one passes on.   However, what is the real value of the “publicity rights” of a regular person – well not much, unless they’ve left behind any type of work(s), photos, or something that has inherit value.

But on the other hand you the true “Dead Celeb” – and that’s where the REAL money comes in.  We should start with Elvis (don’t need to use his last name) as everyone has heard of Elvis!  Well his publicity rights are worth millions upon millions and I can assure you that the Elvis Estate Lawyers are plenty busy protecting anything to do with ALL THINGS “ELVIS” – it’s not really about his music – as Copyright protection by Federal Law (post 1976) was for the creators LIFE – plus 50 now 70 years.  And the Sonny Bono petitioned and WON the right to allow pre-1976 music to be covered until like 2040 or something – (don’t feel like looking it up right now).

But the right to use a Celeb’s IMAGE, Likeness, Name, Photos, and just about anything to do with the Celeb – A.D. (don’t take that the wrong way) – but there were some pretty smart lawyers out there – that went to the families, estates, etc of Dead Celebs and said, “hey, I’ll protect those rights for a fee and if I have to sue anyone in ANY state to make sure that I can set precedent that NOBODY can use the above rights without having paid a “reasonable fee for that use”.  Reasonable?  Sure – whatever they can get which in some cases is a TON of money!

A simple Patent Clerk – riding on a train comes up with a couple of “theories” on Relativity *(time/space) and AFTER years of trying – the theory is PROVEN – he’s not almost as famous as Elvis!  He never put out a record, he never really created any “art” per se – he only published some papers and blew everyone away – and got a PRIZE for it – but no real money.  So how could HIS publicity rights be worth anything? He changed the way we all see the world FOREVER – and hence, Albert Einstein’s publicity rights to his photo, name, likeness, etc are worth a TON!

Yes, it’s a BOOMING BUSINESS!  And the funny part of this story is the ONE Attorney that started it all – was in IOWA – not even close to where the ACTION is – but he was wanting to do something other than the dull and dreary day to day General Practice of Law – so he visited a few families (beneficiaries of estates) and got them to allow him to represent them – and then he started in PROMOTING and SELLING those rights – and if any state wouldn’t allow him to seek injunction relief – then he had the guts to go to court, duke it out and WON – state by state until there were LAWS (not statutes per se) but PRECEDENTS that you can’t use a Dead Persons publicity rights after they are gone – he’s made a KILLING!  No pun intended.

So when you think about Intellectual property – Federal Copyright, Trademark, Patents, and even Trade Secrets (state laws) – then don’t forget about Publicity Rights!  As there’s money is those people that can have their name or likeness put on any thing that you can possibly think of to SELL – and these items no matter how SILLY – will sell because of the PERSON that’s on them and that person is usually a DEAD CELEB –

So now you know – the “other side” of the story – as it were….

Steve Moore, B.A., J.D.

Author of “The Truth about the Music Business”
President and CEO at MSO


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