Did you know that a celebrity’s personality is considered more of a property right than a personal right? This means that even after a celebrity dies, their likeness and image is still protected from being commercially exploited without permission or compensation, similar to a trademark, and as assignable to an estate or inheritor.
In 1985, California passed the Celebrity Rights Act which allows the personality rights of celebrity to survive his or her death and the rights of their personality is passed on to their estate. This protection is granted for 70 years passed the person’s death. This ruling came about as a result of the famous suit, Lugosi v. Universal Pictures. In this suit, Universal Studios was sued by the heirs of Bela Lugosi for using his personality rights without permission.
Under this act, a person must obtain prior consent from the success-of-interest before using a personality’s name, voice, signature, or photo on products, merchandise, advertisements, or anything else that would garner a commercial gain or profit. Unauthorized use could result in the violator being sued for damages. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded.
If you have questions regarding the ownership of intellectual property, contact IP attorney Mark Trenner.