Corbis, the world’s second largest photograph library, has acquired the Roger Richman Agency, probably the world’s largest specialist in the licensing for use in advertising of the images and names of dead personalities. But what are the rights worth in the UK?
Who: Corbis and Roger Richman Agency
When: April 2005
It was announced that Corbis, the world's second biggest provider of archived news and advertising images (after Getty Images), had acquired Roger Richman Agency, a licensing firm specialising in dead personalities including Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein and Steve McQueen.
The Richman Agency was set up 27 years ago by Hollywood lawyer Roger Richman, a pioneer of celebrity rights legislation in the US.
Dead people are far less demanding than live celebrities: Corbis will take a 20% cut of the profits from any endorsements, double the usual rate for a living celebrity endorsement. The sector is also booming. Elvis Presley reportedly still earns $40 million a year, which suggests that the £100 million price for which Elvis's daughter Lisa-Marie sold Elvis Presley Enterprises last year was something of a snip.
Why this matters:
Unlike in the UK, in the US and many other countries including a number of European states, celebrity rights continue well beyond the death of the celebrity.
Here in the UK, as Mr Richman has discovered over the years, when properly advised recipients of his threats have responded to him, there are no such entrenched rights, and indeed no legally recognised 'personality rights' or rights of publicity at all.
Here, a personality's ability to prevent exploitation of his name or likeness in advertising will in most cases depend upon whether he or she can mount a successful passing off claim and there are no reported cases in which such a claim has been successfully pursued by the estate of a deceased personality.
Whether this latest development will see a better resourced, Corbis-owned Roger Richman Agency pushing the boundaries of UK law by way of a test case on this issue we will have to wait and see.