Elvis Presley International Memorial Foundation v. Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation
733 S.W.2d 89 (1987)
- EPIMF and EPMF were both nonprofit corporations dedicated to selling Elvis paraphernalia. EPMF sued EPIMF for unfair competition, to prevent it from using the name “Elvis Presley.”
- Elvis Presley’s estate argued that they had given the right for EPMF to use the name and had not given the right to EPIMF.
- EPIMF argued that Elvis Presley’s image entered the public domain after his death, so they didn’t need anyone’s permission to use it.
- EPMF argued that Elvis Presley’s name and image are descendible.
- Descendible means that the property (here the right to use his likeness) is inherited by his heirs after death.
- The right to control one’s likeness is called a right of publicity.
- The Trial Court found for EPMF. EPIMF appealed.
- The Appellate Court affirmed.
- The Appellate Court found that, under Tennessee law, a person’s right of publicity is descendible property.
- The Court recognized that a celebrity’s right to publicity can be possessed, used, subject to a contract, sold, or assigned. It is unquestionably an intangible personal property with economic value.
- The Court suggested many reasons for why the right to publicity is descendible:
- If it’s a property right in life it must be a property right in death.
- Otherwise it would allow “one man to reap what another has sown.”
- A celebrity operates with the expectation that he is leaving a valuable asset for his heirs.
- The value of contacts to use a celebrity’s likeness would lose value if their likeness entered the public domain upon death.
- It prevents manufacturers from deceptively claiming a dead celebrity endorsed their product.
- The concept of the right of publicity is a relatively recent offshoot of the right to privacy.
- See Zacchini v. Scripts-Howard Broadcasting Co. (433 U.S. 562 (1977)).