When Planets Collide

My two avocations are intellectual property law and bluegrass music. Imagine my excitement, then, when I read that there is a trademark problem with the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. The details are sketchy, and most every article starts out with an “I-can-see-it-coming-a-mile-away-strap-in-kids” pun about there being a sour note in the legacy of Mr. Monroe.

Campbell “Doc” Mercer can’t use Monroe’s likeness or name to promote The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Festival, which he puts on annually to honor the “Father of Bluegrass.Ohio (Kentucky) County and the county industrial foundation lay legal claim to Monroe’s name and image, having bought the usage rights from the musician’s son 13 years ago.

Ooops. Hold on. There’s where my ears perk up. Taking off my bluegrass hat, I know that the right to publicity is state law dependent, and can be an amalgam of common and statutory law. It also depends on the domicile of the deceased at the time of death. Any assignment (again this is State law specific) probably needs to be in writing. Who was the administrator of Mr. Monroe’s estate? He is reported to have lived in Springfield Tennnesse (near Nashville) at the time of his death.

In other words things are not as simple as they seem.

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