LOS ANGELES – The law firm of Loeb & Loeb LLP played an instrumental role in obtaining the passage of California State Senator Sheila Kuehl’s post-mortem publicity rights legislation, signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger yesterday (October 10, 2007). The bill, SB 771, reaffirms California’s protection of posthumous publicity rights for deceased California celebrities and artists by clarifying that these rights may pass to beneficiaries (family members or other heirs) under a deceased celebrity’s will, even if that celebrity died before January 1, 1985.
The interpretation of the existing publicity rights statute had been thrown into question by two recent federal court decisions; the bill was designed to abrogate those decisions by clarifying that individuals who died before January 1, 1985, have the same rights as those who died after that date, thus ensuring that those who inherited the rights can continue to protect the images of American icons such as John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, Mae West, Bela Lugosi and Marilyn Monroe.
New York Is Next
Legislation which would grant similar post-mortem protection under New York law is expected to be reintroduced when that state's legislature reconvenes.
On May 14, 2007, in the case of CMG Worldwide, Inc. v. Milton H. Greene Archives LLC, which involves a dispute over the ownership of Marilyn Monroe’s right of publicity, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that beneficiaries identified in the will of a person who died before 1985 had no rights to control the exploitation of the deceased celebrity’s name, image, likeness, voice or signature. [Earlier that month, a similar conclusion was reached by a federal judge in New York.]
The federal court in the California case held that California Civil Code Section 3344.1 allowed persons who died before 1985 to transfer their publicity rights only to certain statutory beneficiaries, regardless of the deceased’s wishes. However, there was nothing in the law to indicate that the Legislature intended to discriminate against these deceased persons. Moreover, California law has always held that the courts should do whatever possible to avoid “intestacy” – that is, a situation where the law defines who a person’s assets should pass to at death because the decedent failed to do so by will or trust.
A press release distributed by Senator Kuehl’s office correctly observed:
“Given that celebrities like Marilyn Monroe died with very clear testamentary documents about who should benefit from their estates, it is even more important that the statute be clarified so that the law does not alter what those who died had decided for themselves.”
Sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild, Senate Bill 771 was also supported by:
- California Labor Federation
- Retired State Senator Bill Campbell (author of the original 1985 legislation)
- Motion Picture & Television Fund
- Warner Bros.
- Corbis Corporation
- Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
- Experience Hendrix (Estate of Jimi Hendrix)
- Wayne Enterprises, L.P. (John Wayne Family Partnership)
- Batjac Productions, Inc.
- Cecil B. DeMille Foundation
- The John Steinbeck Family Foundation
- Creative Property Rights Alliance
- Bela G. Lugosi
- Chad McQueen
- Taylor & Faust (Trustee for the Second Residuary Trust of Alfred Hitchcock)
Loeb & Loeb’s Trusts and Estates Group, including the high net worth family practice and trusts and estates litigation team, is comprised of nearly 30 lawyers on both coasts. Several attorneys in the group have received high praise in the 2007 editions of the Chambers USA Guide to America's Leading Business Lawyers and Woodward/White, Inc.'s The Best Lawyers in America®. The Chambers Guide ranks lawyers and law practices through interviews with clients and competitors and commented on Loeb’s “first-rate trust and estate lawyers.” The Best Lawyers lists are compiled through an exhaustive peer-review survey in which thousands of the top lawyers in the U.S. confidentially evaluate their professional peers.
About Loeb & Loeb LLP: Loeb & Loeb LLP is a multi-service national law firm with 275 attorneys focusing on select core industries and practice areas, rather than endeavoring to be all things to all clients, and is recognized as a leading law firm in the areas of intellectual property; entertainment and media law; litigation; tax and wealth services; corporate and securities matters; finance; private equity; real estate; employment; and advertising and promotions. The firm represents multi-national, Fortune 100 company in their mid-market transactions and litigation matters, and serves as primary outside counsel to a multitude of mid-market clients. The firm also represents clients ranging from high-tech start-ups to high net worth individuals and families. The firm has four domestic offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Nashville and an affiliation in Asia and Europe.