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I'm the only living heir to a famous musical parent. I own exclusive rights of name, likeness & image. How do I protect this?

Franklin, KY |

As the only heir to a famous parent's Estate, the name has been dragged in and out of Court by a group of individuals who think they now own the rights to the name, likeness and image. They purchased non-exclusive rights from me for a nominal fee. Since that occurred they have used the rights and led millions to believe they own the rights exclusively. My ability to successfully enjoy any potential past, present or future earnings are irrevocably damaged by their on-going actions including continual litigations over this issue that have dragged the famous name through the mud. What can I do to stop this and invoke my exclusive rights in order to re-gain and repair the name as well as any possible earning potential? Your advice is appreciated !

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Filed under: Intellectual property
Attorney answers 3

Best Answer
Posted

If you OR YOUR PARENT sold some of your rights then you likely DO NOT own "exclusive rights". You might still own some "non-exclusive" rights. You might own NO rights. Perhaps the sale is voidable or void, although not likely. Perhaps you OR YOUR PARENT "licensed" rather than "sold" rights, in which case perhaps you have grounds to terminate the license. You do have a copy of the written license agreement or written assignment agreement for this "purchase" don't you? If not you need to get a copy. If this was some verbal deal, you have a huge legal mess to unravel, hopelessly beyond your abilities but well within the skill of a good IP attorney.

If you are now unhappy with the deal and want to change it, avoid it or cancel it, then you must in all prudence get an attorney to help you do that. An attorney needs to see the Agreement, hopefully written, by which you did whatever deal you or your famous parent did. Your terminology leads me to wonder what you OR YOUR PARENT actually sold, since you apparently think you gave a non-exclusive license ("non-exclusive rights") but use words that sound like a limited assignment. Find an attorney that knows this area, likely an Intellectual Property law attorney or Entertainment Attorney (if your famous parent was an entertainer), of the law to advise you. This is way beyond what you can or should handle yourself. So, the specific answer to your specific question of "What can I do?" is YOU CAN GET AN ATTORNEY.

Avvo, here, is a good way to find an attorney. Either pick one from those answering (to show you their skill and knowledge is why most that answer here are providing these answers) or use the Find A Lawyer tab. Ask for a free initial consultation so you and the attorney you select can evaluate each other to determine if you like the attorney and if the attorney is interested in your case and thinks you will be a good paying client.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

Asker

Posted

"...thinks you will be a good paying client. " That is not an issue. I knew that I would need an attorney...you have gone to great lengths to make your points crystal clear and I do indeed appreciate your kind efforts. I do not have a copy of the agreement, and you have provided much-need information...It will be a difficult and likely convoluted case (if it ever gets to that point). You advice has been invaluable Mr. Burdick. Many thanks.

Asker

Posted

Sorry for the typo: You have provided MUCH-NEEDED information. I am indeed grateful for your expertise!

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

Good Luck. Your first task is to get that Agreement. Second task is to find an attorney to review it and advise.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

Since seem bent on do-it-yourself research, which I think most unwise, you should review http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide for the states in question to see how long "post mortem publicity rights", if any, last.

Asker

Posted

No way will I attempt this convoluted snafu alone ! You have convinced me with your initial response that I haven't a clue how his name should have been handled...the music rights were sold long ago in the State of TN; the name, likeness and image...well, actually I have no choice but to contact an attorney as I realize the rank ignorance of allowing "limited use' of same...but what limits, for how long or if there were ever any "rights" to parse out will all be questions for a seasoned professional. I doubt that the agreement for "limited use" can be reversed, but will not know until I obtain copies of all agreement signed with the group who now professes to own the "exclusive rights" to said name, likeness and image. I won't go it alone...and after I gather up the papers you've suggested, you may be getting an email or call even though I realize you are not licensed in either TN or KY...your replies have been beyond helpful ! I know less than nothing about these issues, but I have no doubt only an IP specialist can assist me. Thanks so very much for your kind assistance, but mostly for your expertise in this matter !! Amazing !!

Posted

Q: "They purchased non-exclusive rights from me for a nominal fee. Since that occurred they have used the rights and led millions to believe they own the rights exclusively."
R: The only way for an attorney to assist you is to first evaluate that agreement. The results of that analysis will determine the following steps [if any]. Which you must have already known. So speak with an attorney licensed to practice in the state whose law controls the agreement you made with the "group of individuals." The agreement should clearly designate that law in a provision entitled "choice of law." Good luck.

The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

Asker

Posted

Thanks for your reply. I am confused by your last sentence : "The agreement should clearly designate that law in a provision entitled "choice of law." It is helpful to know I must pursue action in the State where the Agreement was signed. Thanks for your reply !!

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

That is not what he said. He suggested you hire an attorney in the state designated as the one whose laws govern the agreement. That may or may not be where it was signed. Often these agreements are signed in multiple states. It may be necessary to use an attorney in the state where your famous parent died to interpret what rights passed to you upon your parent's death. You may want to start with whatever attorney you choose from Avvo and let that attorney review the agreement and tell you what law will most likely apply and that attorney would no doubt either refer you to an attorney in that state or engage the assistance of an attorney in that state. So your initial task is to get to an attorney, preferably an IP or entertainment attorney, and get that agreement reviewed and get an IP audit done as respects your famous parent to see what rights your famous parent still had to give the estate, which you say is just you.

Asker

Posted

"That is not what he said." Actually it is the exact quote. Moot point. I have since researched the term "choice of law" which was the confusing point in the attorney's kind response. Remember: I am not an attorney, nor am I familiar with The Law. Whatever I do will be difficult for the attorney as I believe I erred when ignorantly signing the agreement for "non exclusive" rights to use the name, likeness and image of my Father...Hindsight...always 20/20. Thanks so much for your help !

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

What I was referring to by "that" which Attorney Ballard did not say was your paraphrase of the conflict of laws part as being "I must pursue action in the State where the Agreement was signed." Hopefully your research cleared that up for you. Yes, sounds like hindsight now, but hardly 20/20 without either Agreement copy or attorney review.

Posted

Potential upsides and downsides here are far too great to waste time here. Get a lawyer who knows image protection by estates and also knows licensing. Now.

Asker

Posted

My THANKS for the replies I have received. Invaluable and spot-on. Moving forward with the sage advice given...armed with knowledge generously provided by all. Headed to TN to begin the process and sort out the mess with a firm specializing in IP (where I should have gone initially--oh that damnable Hindsight ! Always 20/20 isn't she?!)