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The State of Estates

By Karina Masolova

They may be dead, but they’re not gone. Estate licensing, for deceased celebrities who would fall under the celebrities category in life, made up 2.3% of all licensing revenue in 2014. After gaining 1.3% in 2013, estate-based sales fell 1.0% in 2014 to $2.25 billion. Retail success in was largely limited to a couple of dominant properties, notably Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley. The key to success? One licensing consultant during TLL’s Annual Licensing Business Survey conducted earlier this year gave the example of, “the Marilyn business,” as “incredibly successful in reinventing itself and staying fresh and in the public eye.” In particular, the “Lil’ Marilyn” and the Norma Jean promotional campaigns for Maybelline were fresh drivers for Monroe’s growth. Bob Marley, meanwhile, launched a new line of hemp apparel and announced new food and even marijuana lines for 2015.

Even for the most prolifically licensed stars, most revenue comes not from consumer products, but recorded music sales or promotional partnerships, as demonstrated by Forbes’ ranking of the top-earning 13 celebrities in 2015.

And now technological developments are opening up new avenues in experiential licensing that offer additional revenue streams. Singer and actress Whitney Houston will take the stage again next year, albeit in hologram form. Behind the effort is Hologram USA, which, in partnership with Houston’s estate, will also distribute content online via and syndicate to all major digital outlets online, on satellite and cable. The live show will open at a major U.S. venue and tour the world. Hologram USA previously announced plans to create shows with the estates of Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly and Liberacee.

New Player

Corbis Entertainment has been selected to represent the personality rights of iconic musician, singer and writer Marvin Gaye. Corbis serves as the exclusive third-party licensor for Marvin Gaye’s rights and trademarks including his name, image, likeness, signatures and characterizations for use in advertising, promotions and merchandising.

Legal Update

The legal question surrounding older celebrities who fall into the public domain has been raised again. The battle over Marilyn Monroe, whose likeness is represented by Authentic Brands Group, continues. Last week, The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC was hit with a counter-claim from nostalgia merchandiser X One X Movie Archive. The company was dragged into an ongoing suit with Avela on the basis of its purported relationship with owner Leo Valencia, whom the Estate claims violated trademarks by selling merchandise featuring Monroe’s likeness without permission. While X One X countered that the Estate does not hold a strong enough claim for trademark rights, given that Monroe is in the public domain, the court is entertaining the viability of a false endorsement claim based in a celebrity’s right of publicity. Avela was involved in similar cases with Warner Bros. and Bob Marley, which were largely decided in favor of the rights holders. Learn more about how the unauthorized use of a celebrity for commercial purposes.


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