New Forbes list points up right of publicity issue

BVWireIssue #194-1
November 7, 2018

damages, intangible property, intangible valuation, intangible

When a celebrity passes away, a large chunk of value in the estate may come from the “right of publicity,” which is a form of intellectual property that covers an individual’s name and likeness. Typically, public interest in a celebrity increases after death, a phenomenon that gave birth years ago to the remark “good career move,” uttered by some callous folks in show biz. Be that as it may, the trend continues, evidenced by the Forbes list of “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities for 2018,” which puts Michael Jackson in the No. 1 spot once again, with earnings of $400 million over the past year.

Pending case: Valuation experts are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Jackson estate case in Tax Court in which the estate and the IRS came up with widely divergent estimates for the value of the pop star’s name and likeness. Hopefully, the case will provide some guidance on this matter. Since Jackson died in 2009, his estate has raked in $2.4 billion in earnings, according to Forbes. His estate holds other income-producing assets, so not all of this revenue is from his name and likeness. Estates of other celebrities, such as Aretha Franklin, are also grappling with this issue, but not all states recognize a posthumous right of publicity.

A new chapter in the recently released Comprehensive Guide to Economic Damages5th edition,examines the right of publicity, which is not limited to celebrities. A notable case involved a kindergarten teacher who was awarded $15.6 million over the unauthorized use of his image by Nestle on labels of Taster’s Choice coffee.

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