The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jimi Hendrix’s estate on Wednesday, a decision that could have long-lasting effects on celebrity estates and merchandising.
Hendrix died in 1970 in New York, a state that does not have any laws regarding postmortem rights of publicity. Washington state, however, does, leading many heirs and estates to sue there to protect the persona of the dead celebrity.
The long-running case, in which the Hendrix estate, run by Hendrix’s adopted sister Janie, sued HendrixLicensing.com, a website that sold Hendrix-themed merchandise, run by Andrew Pitsicalis, a business partner of Hendrix’s brother, Leon. In the original ruling, judge awarded the Hendrix estate $1.7 million in damages.
Pitsicalis appealed, arguing that the Washington law was unconstitutional, violating the due process and full faith and credit provisions of the Constitution. A judge agreed, and threw out the previous ruling.
This time around, the Hendrix estate appealed, and came out on top, sort of. This ruling relies on several legal technicalities having to do with state laws and jurisdictions, but, in short, the judge ruled that the Washington law stands, putting Pitsicalis on the losing end. Pitsicalis, and any other companies using Hendrix’s likeness are barred from selling any merchandise featuring the legendary rock star. While the judge did only awarded the Hendrix estate $60,000 of the the original $1.7 million, the option of another trial was left open.
In short, this case leaves the option open for celebrity estates to sue to protect their likenesses, a potentially troublesome ruling for anyone peddling a dead celebrity without permission.