Rogue One film points up celeb estate valuation issue

BVWireIssue #172-1
January 11, 2017

The value of the estates of famous actors could get a boost thanks to this holiday season’s “boffo pic” Rogue One. In the film, the late actor Peter Cushing was “digitally resurrected” and appears as the future Death Star commander. Some stars are now taking action, such as having themselves scanned, so they, too, can provide for their heirs when they’re in the hereafter, according to an article in Variety.

Real force: There can be a great deal of value in a celebrity’s posthumous right of publicity—a form of intellectual property that covers an individual’s likeness, name, signature, voice, and so on. True, celebrities have been re-created before in various commercial projects, but the technology has broken new ground with the latest film. Of course, there’s speculation that we will continue to see Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in future Star Wars installments.

Determining the fair market value of a posthumous right of publicity can be difficult, and there can be wide swings in opinions of value. The estate of Michael Jackson valued his name and likeness at $2,105, but the IRS says the value is a whopping $434 million—quite a gap. This dispute is set to be resolved sometime this year. Also, whether a person’s right of publicity continues after death is a matter of state law—not all states recognize it.

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