Monday, October 29, 2012

Bob Ross's Happy Little Trees

Bob Ross, illustrious PBS painter, would be 70 years old today were it not for his untimely death. Mr. Ross, perhaps best known for his distinctive hairstyle, pet squirrel, and soothing voice, taught television viewers how to paint beautiful landscapes with "happy little trees."

A quick Google search indicates scores of websites where one can purchase a t-shirt or other memorabilia to commemorate Mr. Ross. This may leave you wondering, however, whether Mr. Ross's estate benefits from the proceeds of these sales.

The answer, of course, is that it depends. Rights of publicity are governed by states, and a person's rights of publicity depend on any restrictions their domiciliary state places on them. For example, in some states, the right only arises if you are a celebrity. In other states, you can only exercise your rights posthumously if you exercised them during your lifetime.

In Mr. Ross's case, he was a lifelong Floridian (despite a stint in the Air Force), and Florida does have a statute on point: FSA 540.08.

If you're considering estate planning as a career (rights of publicity may be descendible!) or you're curious to know whether you need to ask anyone's permission to start printing t-shirts with your favorite deceased celebrity (Horshack, anyone?) , understanding rights of publicity is essential. Check out Publicity Rights and Image: Exploitation and Legal Control in the library to learn more.