According to Billboard, Bob Marley’s heirs succeeded in obtaining damages from merchandisers who utilized Marley’s image without the estate’s permission. To prevent unauthorized uses of Marley’s likeness, his children created Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, a company which regulates the licensing of his image. In this case, which began in 2008, Fifty-Six Hope sued A.V.E.L.A. and other manufacturers of various items bearing Marley’s image, which were sold at large national retailers such as Walmart and Target. The heirs claimed that A.V.E.L.A. violated the Lanham Act because consumers would confuse the origin of the Marley-image bearing goods–assuming that the Marley estate endorsed or approved the products. In 2011, the plaintiffs were victorious, which prompted this rebuttal from A.V.E.L.A. The merchandiser claimed that the court applied the concept of false endorsement too broadly, and consequently, had effectively created a federal right of publicity. In response, the Marley heirs conducted a survey that demonstrated that about 37% of respondents assumed that the Marley estate approved one of A.V.E.L.A.’s T-shirts, while only 20% thought a t-shirt exhibiting the image of a man resembling Marley, was endorsed by the estate. This was enough of to demonstrate actual confusion, and thus for the 9th Circuit to affirm the lower court’ s ruling. Ultimately, this victory likely will aid celebrities in future cases involving a misappropriation of their likenesses.
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