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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    115

    Default Rights to a Historical Hamily Name

    If someone was the last living descendant of a historical figure, do they automatically inherit the rights to the family name? For example; If I was the last living descendant of General Robert E. Lee, would I be entitled to the rights of use of Robert E. Lee's likeness, name, etc.? If so, how would one go about proving these rights and making them concrete in the eyes of the law?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    758

    Default Inheriting Famous Relative's ID

    A valuable historic name, to the extent that it has not passed into the public domain, will be subject to certain intellectual property protections. Those would normally pass through the famous person's estate to his or her descendents, so assuming that the person lived sufficiently recently that their name or works are not in the public domain, and assuming that the famous person did not otherwise alienate his name or works during his lifetime, and that they have otherwise passed to his heirs, the last living descendent may well end up inheriting those intellectual property rights.

    This is something of a hot area, these days. There are actually law firms which specialize in protecting the rights of heirs to their famous ancestors' identity. Given that if the celebrity is of sufficient import that their persona still carries significant market value, a lot of money can be involved, the best approach to asserting and protecting those rights is to work through a specialist lawyer or law firm.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Posts
    115

    Default

    Thanks Aaron! I wasn't expecting a reply so quickly!

    "assuming that the person lived sufficiently recently that their name or works are not in the public domain"

    Do their works and name enter the public domain after some sort of statute of limitation? Using my example of General Robert E. Lee, is that too long ago to obtain any rights?

    If someone was the last living descendent of George Washington, I don't see how they could own any exclusivity for the use of the name and likeness of George Washington. What would be the difference between a public figure like Washington and a private figure such as George Clooney? Thanks again!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    758

    Default

    There are two issues - their personage (e.g., their face and image) and their works (e.g., their speeches). The estate of MLK Jr. makes a considerable amount of money licensing his "I have a dream" speech. Here's some information on how long a copyright lasts.

    Robert E. Lee is too long ago to have any viable current rights. The biggest difference between a public figure like a current President and a public figure such as George Clooney is that it is easier for George Clooney to assert a private pecuniary interest in his persona. (This is the issue Arnold Schwarzenegger faced when he became governor, and somebody marketed a bobblehead doll depicting him - something that he could easily have blocked as an actor, but which starts to become fair game as he assumes a role as a political leader.)

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