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Dead celebrity rights

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


You know who Elvis Presley is, right? Well, the “King of Rock and Roll” died in 1977 at the age of 42 with about $5 million in the bank. According to Forbes, his estate made over $55 million just in 2015 alone.

Michael Jackson leads the list of top grossing dead celebrities. His estate earned $115 million in 2015. Elizabeth Taylor passed in 2011, but that didn’t stop her from earning over $20 million last year. We all know Albert Einstein was no dummy. But did you know his estate earned $11 million in 2016? Even the late Indiana legend James Dean brought in over $8 million that same year.

The bottom line is that dead celebrities can really sell products. Cartoons, whiskey, perfumes and cars are just a sampling of products bearing the names or likenesses of famous deceased people. Commercialization of dead celebrities is a multi-billion dollar industry.

For many years, Indiana (Yes, Indiana!) has had one of the most celebrity-friendly right of publicity laws in the country. Under Indiana law, the “right of publicity” includes a personality’s property interest in the personality’s name, voice, signature, image, likeness and mannerisms. Without express permission, a person can’t use another personality’s likeness for commercial purpose during the personality’s lifetime or for 100 years after the personality’s death.

Indiana’s law protects the deceased celebrity’s publicity rights regardless of where that celebrity lived, worked or died. Many states don’t recognize any publicity rights for famous dead people – including New York. Accordingly, anyone looking to sell, promote or advertise products or services in Indiana with the likeness or personality of another person who is alive or dead must first obtain permission. CMG Worldwide’s founder created the dead celebrity rights industry and the company is headquartered in Indianapolis. For more information about its impressive list of clients and services, check out the company’s website.

The right of publicity law in Indiana affords zero protection to any person, dead or alive, who obtains some commercial value associated with his or her name, voice, image or likeness resulting from being charged with or convicted of a crime.

Most celebrities work really hard during their lives. Must be comforting to know that they can earn even more money after they die.


Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you

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