Jimi Hendrix Estate Wins Court Battle
Word to the wise, Washington residents: If you’re interested in purchasing a Jimi Hendrix dart board, you’d better do it fast.
This new urgency comes courtesy of a recent court ruling, detailed by the Hollywood Reporter, which found a company called HendrixLicensing.com on the losing end of a battle against the Jimi Hendrix estate — and which could have far-reaching impact for anyone hoping to make a few bucks off a dead celebrity’s likeness inside the Washington state lines.
The technicalities involved in the decision are relatively complicated (and described in detail at the Hollywood Reporter), but the issue that provoked the case relates to Washington’s publicity-rights law, which has already been the focus of previous court battles. As the article puts it, “When Hendrix died in 1970, the guitar legend was a resident of New York. Significantly, New York is not one of the roughly two dozen states that recognize a postmortem right of publicity. But Washington does. As such, the heirs of famous people can sue there to protect names, likenesses, voices, mannerisms, images, gestures, signatures and more.”
And sue is exactly what the Hendrix estate did when HendrixLicensing.com decided to start selling its products in Washington. As with many Hendrix-related controversies, there’s a family twist; the company is owned by a partnership that includes Hendrix’s brother Leon, while the estate is controlled by the Hendrix brothers’ adopted sister, Janie.
Complicated family dynamics aside, the court decided that Washington’s law — which had previously been fought on constitutional grounds — is allowed to stand because it doesn’t disrupt interstate commerce. The judge’s ruling also opened up the possibility of another trial to decide the ongoing question of $1.7 million in damages, previously awarded to the estate then thrown out in a subsequent decision. “Here, the 9th Circuit reinstates that full damage amount, but really doesn’t,” concludes the Hollywood Reporter article, “finding it more appropriate to hold another trial given some of the confusing jury instructions.”