Monday, September 28, 2009

"Working Stiffs"

Last night, 60 Minutes aired a fascinating segment about Mark Roesler, an intellectual property lawyer who made his career by representing dead celebrities (or as correspondent Steve Kroft rather tastelessly calls them, "working stiffs"). Roesler’s Indianapolis-based company CMG Worldwide manages and licenses the likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Bettie Page, and Babe Ruth, to name just a few.

(read transcript)

Roesler’s work falls under a section of intellectual property law called the postmortem right of publicity. It’s an area of law that can elicit strong emotions from fans, particularly when dead celebrities’ images are used to endorse products that the celebrity would likely have not endorsed during life. (Sure, manly-man Steve McQueen might not mind starring in a postmortem ad for Ford Mustangs, but would he really have wanted his face adorning a $200 t-shirt from Dolce & Gabbana?) There has been a wealth of interesting case law on the topic, involving such celebs as Bela Lugosi, Elvis Presley, the Marx Brothers, and Marilyn Monroe. To learn more, check out chapter 9 of the “bible” on this topic, J. Thomas McCarthy’s The Rights of Publicity and Privacy (KF1262 .M42; also available on Westlaw as the RTPUBPRIV database).