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Looking For A Deceased Celebrity's Successor-In-Interest? The Secretary Of State Has An Answer

The California Secretary of State's office is the repository for a vast a disparate number of filings.  Few people, for example, may be aware that they may register with the Secretary of State's office as a successor-in-interest to a deceased personality pursuant to California Civil Code Section 3344.1.  A person registering as a successor-in-interest must provide the personality's name, date of death, the name and address of the claimant and the interest claimed (fees and instructions are available here.)  A deceased personality is any natural person whose name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness has commercial value at the time of his or her death, or because of his or her death, whether or not during the lifetime of that natural person the person used his or her name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or solicitation of purchase of, products, merchandise, goods, or services.

Why would anyone be inclined to register as a successor-in-interest to a deceased personality?  Under the statute, a person may be liable for damages for the unauthorized use of a deceased personality’s name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness, in any manner, on or in products, merchandise, or goods, or for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of, products, merchandise, goods, or services.  However, a successor-in-interest may not recover damages until he or she registers with the Secretary of State as such.  (The statute is quite a bit more complex than this brief description and any reader with a question should read the law or consult with a lawyer who is familiar with this area.)

Recently, I decided to check out the Secretary of State's search tool by searching for Michael Jackson's name.  Below is the form filed by Mr. Jackson's successor-in-interest.

I did note that the Secretary of State's website inaccurately states "To use a deceased personality's name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness in any manner for commercial purposes, you first must register your claim as a successor-in-interest to use those intellectual property rights with the Secretary of State as required by Civil Code section 3344.1."  As noted above, a successor-in-interest registers not to use the deceased personality's name or likeness but to obtain damages for unauthorized use.

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