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Appeal court upholds publicity rights for Hendrix in Washington State

By | Published on Friday 31 January 2014

Jimi Hendrix

A long running legal squabble in the US over what rights the Jimi Hendrix estate has to prevent others from selling goods using the late guitarist’s likeness has moved forward, with an appeals court overturning a contentious 2011 ruling on the matter.

So-called ‘publicity rights’, the American legal concept at play here, are complicated, and even more so for dead celebs, because the protection comes from state law, and some states protect the name and image of dead stars and others do not.

And that has been very relevant in the dispute between, a company which sells various flim flam bearing the musician’s image, and the Hendrix estate. There is a family dimension here too, in that Hendrix’s brother Leon has an involvement in, while their adopted sister Janie manages the estate.

Although Hendrix was resident in New York at the time of his death – a state where posthumous publicity rights do not apply – the estate’s company Experience Hendrix has endeavoured to stop from selling goods in Washington, a state where such rights are on the statute book.

But in 2011, in what was a surprising decision, a Washington judge ruled that using the state’s publicity right laws in this way was unconstitutional, in that it violated some rules set out by the US Constitution. That ruling limited the use of Washington’s state laws on publicity rights where interstate dealings were involved.

However, this week the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals overturned that judgement. Admitting that the matter “raises difficult questions regarding whether another state must recognise the broad personality rights that Washington provides”, the appeals judge said that, nonetheless, this case was specifically about trading in Washington state, so concerns about applying the publicity rights laws were limited.

The appeals court also made rulings favourable to the Hendrix estate on trademark and damages issues. It remains to be seen where this dispute goes next.