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Washington Judge Finds Publicity Rights Unconstitutional

  • By: Robert Klein

Earlier in 2011, a federal judge in the state of Washington declared the state’s publicity rights law in violation of the federal constitution. The case originated from merchandise pertaining to 60s rock icon Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix’s estate sued a retailer that sold t-shirts, posters and other merchandise relating to Hendrix. His estate sued on trademark infringement grounds, because the merchandise was all unlicensed.

In response, the defendant said that Washington’s expansive publicity rights stifle innovation. Photographers and other artists, the defendant’s argument goes, are unable to create any works involving deceased celebrities, even if they took the photographs or movies legally. Protecting and enforcing publicity rights is an important responsibility for a Los Angeles litigation lawyer.

The judge in the Hendrix case ultimately found Washington’s publicity law unconstitutional based on residency grounds. He found that Hendrix’s publicity rights did not pass onto his father, Al Hendrix, because Jimi did not reside in Washington at the time of death.

The decision is of course subject to appeal and could have important implications. Because the case originated in Washington, the federal appeals court covers California as well, which is the center of publicity rights law in the United States. A Los Angeles litigation attorney can advise celebrities of their rights under developing publicity rights law in various states.

Robert Klein

About the Author Attorney Robert Klein is a former CPA and known for
finding creative solutions to complex business lawsuits.