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Rights of Publicity and Estate Valuation

The concept of celebrity brands is as old as trademark licensing itself. Going back to the early 1900s, the “Teddy Bear” was inspired by President Teddy Roosevelt. The Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. received permission from Roosevelt to market the stuffed bears after a well-publicized incident in which Roosevelt refused to kill a bear cub on a hunting trip to Mississippi. The Teddy Bear continues to be a major success.

The right of publicity that gives rise to celebrity branding differs from other types of intangible assets in several ways. For example, the right of publicity protects one’s persona as it might be used in any medium such as a photograph used in an advertisement. In general, the right of publicity protects a person’s name and likeness similar to that of a trademark protecting a businesses registered names and brands. In both cases the legal owners have exclusive rights to control the use. Today, many well-known celebrities are trademarking various iterations of their names; however, even in the absence of a trademark, their rights of publicity are protected under various state laws.

A celebrity’s brand or right of publicity can grow exponentially in value as the celebrity develops and enhances his or her image. A strong emotional desire to associate with celebrities drives consumers to their products. It is not unusual for popular athletes and celebrities to be well compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness.

The protection and exploitation of these rights, both during the celebrity’s life and post-mortem (depending on local law), can be a source of substantial value. Quantifying this value is critical, whether for endorsement deal negotiations, estate planning, or determining damages in litigation involving rights of publicity infringement. The analysts at CONSOR have established the value of publicity rights across a range of different contexts for various celebrities and their brands, including Woody Allen, Teri Hatcher, Marlon Brando, and Maurice Gibb, among others.

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