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1. Crazy Plaintiff: "Elvis Kidnapped Me!"
Highest Court Tenth Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Mentally Unstable Individual(s)
Defendants Family of Artist(s)
Medical Professional(s)
Presley, Elvis
State Entity and/or Official(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This lawsuit somehow merited two different court's time and effort to write opinions. Impressive. Plaintiff is obviously mentally ill, and sued Elvis Presley and Elvis Presley's estate (since he's dead), alleging to be Elvis's son, but also seeming to argue he is Elvis. He says he's been kidnapped, his death has been faked. As you'd expect, this is frivolous and was dismissed. - LSW


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2. Film About Elvis Infringe El's Rights?
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Elvis Presley Enterprises
Financial Institution(s)
Leiber & Stoller
Photographer(s)
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Individual(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description The Defendant produced a 16-hour video about Elvis' life. As part of the video, it included selections from The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis 1968 Comeback, and The Steve Allen Show. Also, the Plaintiff owned the copyright to some of Elvis' music. The Court noted that Elvis' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is licensed at $10,000 a minute. In the video, a narrator would sometimes overdub the copyrighted footage, which accounted for about 10% of the movie. The footage also played with the original audio. There was no question the Defendant knew it did not have license for the material; the copyright holder refused the Defendant's request because it was preparing it own video. The Plaintiffs' moved for a preliminary injunction, which was granted. On appeal, the Court was looking only for blatantly incorrect legal or factual conclusions by the trial court. The Court found that the Plaintiffs brought the suit promptly after determining what the video actually depicted. The Plaintiffs would likely have been barred from bringing suit before they knew the content under a theory called prior restraint. The only issue before the Court was whether the Plaintiffs had a probability at succeeding at showing the Defendant did not engage in fair use. Fair use is not copyright infringement based upon an analysis of factors, such as, the purpose of the use, whether commercial or not; the nature of the use; the amount of the portion used in relation to the whole of the copyrighted work; and the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work. For the first factor, the commercial nature of the video weighs against fair use, but by using the clips in a new work, the Defendant may have transformed the work into a new creation. The clips were not consistently transformed, and in fact, the video was made to profit commercially from the clips - this wasn't a history lesson. For the nature of the work, the video and music used were creative, but because of Elvis' life, they also possessed a newsworthy perspective. The Court found the news aspect overwhelmed by the creative nature. The Court next found that the length and repetitious nature of the clips' usage favored the Plaintiffs. Even where only short portions were used, the Court found that those brief seconds were the "heart of the work" and what gave the images their value. Last, the Defendant's video would effect the market for the copyrighted materials because of their commercial nature and lack of transformation. While the last factor did not weight strongly for either side, the other factors favored the Plaintiffs, so the injunction was upheld. In dissent, one Judge found that the district court made too many factual errors concerning the transformative nature of the work. In the dissent, the Judge criticized the court's wholesale adoption of fact findings prepared by the Plaintiff. - JMC


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3. No Trademark for Elvis's Image
Highest Court United States Patent and Trademark Office
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants No Defendants on file
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description In an invaluable case discussing the perimeters (parameters?) of trademark protection, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board held that Elvis Presley Enterprises could not obtain a registered trademark in the generic notion of "Elvis's likeness," thereby including all images of Elvis within it's "mark." The court cited Elvis v. Russen ("'Big El Show' Infringe Elvis' Identity?"), in which the court held that trademarks for general images were inappropriate without a more specific designation of the "marks" sought to be covered. In fact, Plaintiff's submissions to the trademark office illustrated that Elvis had many styles and appearances over the years, which could not be summarized by a single description or registration. The T.T.A.B. affirmed the trademark office's denial of Plaintiff's request. No trademark will issue. - LSW


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4. "Velvet Elvis" Infringe Real Elvis?
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1998
Plaintiffs Elvis Presley Enterprises
Defendants Individual(s)
Place of Public Accomodation
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), the assignee of Elvis Presley's trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and publicity rights, sued Defendant, the owner of a nightclub named the "The Velvet Elvis" for trademark infringement and violation of its publicity rights. The court held that "The Velvet Elvis" mark infringed EPE's marks, the action was not barred by laches, and that EPE was entitled to an injunction enjoining Defendant's use of "The Velvet Elvis" mark. Judgment for Plaintiff. - SKR


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5. Who Owns Elvis's Golden Piano
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 1995
Plaintiffs Investor(s)
Defendants Elvis Presley Enterprises
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description The owner of the rights to Elvis Presley's golden grand piano sued Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) for breach of contract and conversion after EPE sold souvenirs, postcards, and jewelry featuring the piano in Graceland's gift shop. The circuit court affirmed the lower court's award of damages to Plaintiff in the amount of approximately $110,000. - SKR


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6. Elvis's Face = Posthumous Income
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 1991
Plaintiffs Elvis Presley Enterprises
Defendants Music Merchandiser(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), the assignee of Elvis Presley's trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and publicity rights, sued Defendant for trademark infringement, and violation of its rights of publicity. The court ruled in favor of EPE, and issued a permanent injunction preventing Defendant from using the name, likeness and image of Elvis Presley for the purposes of selling or marketing any goods or services within the United States. The court held that Defendant could not establish the elements of estoppel necessary to establish laches. - SKR


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7. Elvis's Supposed Child Sues
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Tennessee
Year Ended 1989
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Executor of Estate(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description "Illegitimate" children (i.e. children born out of wedlock) make great Plaintiffs and interesting lawsuits. Here, a supposed daughter of Elvis Presley, not recognized by Presley during life nor bred during marital matrimony, sued to be included in Elvis's will, alleging it did not exclude illegitimate children. The court did agree with Plaintiff regarding this point. The will's reference to "lawful children" was intended as and should be read as indicated Elvis's intention only to include legitimate children, so the probate court's findings on this issue was affirmed by the appellate court. However, the probate court's determinations that Plaintiff was not Elvis's daughter and that she could not be declared "legitimate" were outside the scope of summary judgment, and thus were reversed. Plaintiff's admissions in filings that she was "illegitimate" were held not to bar Plaintiff's assertions that she might now be "legitimate." Since she'd been denied counsel during probate, she should probably get it now. - LSW


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8. Elvis Clarifies Copyright Crime (II)
Highest Court Supreme Court of the United States
Year Ended 1988
Plaintiffs Federal Prosecutor(s)
Defendants Bootlegger(s)/Counterfeiter(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Defendant was convicted and sentenced for crimes connected with a scheme to manufacture and distribute bootleg Elvis Presley phonograph records. Defendant appealed his convictions for copyright infringement, interstate transportation of stolen property, and conspiracy, which the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court, however, reversed and remanded the case in light of its holding in Dowling v. U.S., 473 U.S. 207 (1985), where it held that a provision the National Stolen Property Act imposing criminal penalties for interstate transportation of stolen property did not reach the interstate transportation of "bootleg records". On remand, the appellate court reversed Defendant's interstate transportation conviction, but affirmed the remaining convictions. The Defendant then moved to reconsider his conviction, which was denied by the court of appeals. The court of appeals then remanded the case to the district court for re-sentencing. - SKR


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9. Two Nonprofit Elvis Institutions?
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Tennessee
Year Ended 1987
Plaintiffs Nonprofit Organization(s)
Defendants Elvis Presley Enterprises
Nonprofit Organization(s)
State Entity and/or Official(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Even a decade after his death, Elvis Presley's name generated over $4 million in annual revenue. In 1979, a group of fans tried to create a fundraising group using his name that would help improve a hospital. The Tennessee Secretary of State initially refused their request, but then granted the charter to the International Foundation. In 1985, Presley's estate created a not-for-profit corporation, the Foundation, that gathered money to build a statue of Presley across from Graceland. The International Foundation sought to prevent the Foundation from using the similar name. The case speaks about the right of publicity, that is, a person's ability to capitalize upon his name while preventing others. The Court noted the long, slow development of the right and the fact that it may be descendible. In particular, Presley's estate had already been in court four times concerning this right of publicity, and three other courts had found that the right of publicity survived his death. After noting that Tennessee courts had only once addressed the issue, the Court noted that the right of publicity has value to a person as a type of intangible personal property. The Court concluded that a federal appeals court had wrongly interpreted Tennessee law and not found publicity to be survivable (confusing it, perhaps, with the privacy tort of "commercial appropriation"). The Court found that the upholding the right was based upon important policy provisions. The Court reasoned that if a property right exists during life, it should exist during death. Further, the Court wanted to protect against parties who are unjustly enriched by the right of another. Also, allowing survivability protects the expectations of the celebrity and the persons who enter into contracts that would use their publicity right. The Court also found strength for its decision in Tennessee's laws. The court remanded the case for additional fact finding determine whether the Foundation had waited too long to bring suit against the International Foundation. - JMC (ed. LSW)


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10. Elvis Clarifies Copyright Crime (I)
Highest Court Supreme Court of the United States
Year Ended 1985
Plaintiffs Federal Prosecutor(s)
Defendants Bootlegger(s)/Counterfeiter(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description The Defendant had been bootlegging Elvis Presley records for several years, moving over 50,000 copies of records. He was convicted of transporting stolen property over state lines, a federal crime, and other charges. He was caught sending bootlegs from Los Angeles to Baltimore and Miami. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction for transporting property. Congress' intent in creating the law had nothing to do with copyright infringement. Essentially, the law was to punish someone who had physically taken another's property. The copyright is separate from the physical ownership of a bootleg record since the bootlegger isn't taking the copyright or totally appropriating it from the owner. Allowing the conviction to have been upheld would have expanded impermissibly Congress' intent. - JMC


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11. Elvis's Posthumous Publicity (III)
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 1983
Plaintiffs Factors, Etc.
Defendants Music Merchandiser(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description After Presley's death, Defendant marketed merchandise with his likeness on it, and Plaintiff sued. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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12. Some Lady vs. "The King"
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 1982
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Allied Artists Pictures
Blair, Hal
Estate of Artist(s)
Hill and Range Music
Publisher(s)
RCA Records
Robertson, Don
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Plaintiff is an unknown songwriter who wrote and copyrighted a song called "As Long As I Have You" in the 1940s and--even though it was never published--Plaintiff went to the trouble to renew the copyright in 1974. In 1976, Plaintiff alleged that Elvis Presley's song, "I'm Yours," released in 1965, was nearly identical to her own composition and was thus an infringement. The trial court found for Defendants, holding the three year statute of limitations barred Plaintiff's action and that any damages within the last three years were barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. The Circuit Court reversed the finding as to laches; no prejudice had been shown. The case was remanded to determine liability for the immediately preceding three year period. - LSW


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13. Plaintiff's Exclusive Elvis Theory
Highest Court Eleventh Circuit
Year Ended 1982
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants ABC, Inc.
News Producer(s)
Rivera, Geraldo
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Plaintiff is one of many people claiming Elvis Presley's death was some conspiracy or murder plot. He met with ABC and representatives for Geraldo Rivera, hoping to sell his "exclusive story" that Presley was killed by his bodyguards (or physician) through withholding a necessary medication. At that meeting Plaintiff had Defendants sign a contract saying they wouldn't take his ides. Defendants told Plaintiff he'd need evidence, of which he had none. When Defendants later aired a story that Presley's death may have been the result of prescription drugs, Plaintiff sued, even though the story was entirely different from his own. Perhaps he wanted a monopoly on all conspiracies surrounding Elvis's death. The court found Defendants had not used Plaintiff's idea, so they couldn't have breached the agreement, infringed copyright, misappropriated anything at all. - LSW


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14. RCA Clarifies Elvis's Royalties
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1982
Plaintiffs RCA Records
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Executor of Estate(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Parker, Colonel Tom
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Following Elvis's death, the estate sought to re-visit and, in some cases, invalidate certain prior recordings signed by Elvis during his lifetime. In this suit, the estate (in an alternate probate proceeding in Nevada) questioned the legitimacy of the recording contract signed between Elvis, Col. Tom Parker (his manager), and Plaintiff RCA Records. Anticipating disputes over the payments RCA would be expected to make, they filed an interpleader, naming as Defendants Elvis's estate, various Presley family members, and Parker. The court upheld jurisdiction under the federal interpleader statute (minimal diversity of citizenship and over $500 in contest) and held venue appropriate. Parker's attempts to be classified as a "stateless" citizen through his Dutch birth and citizenship were rejected. - LSW


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15. "Big El Show" Infringe Elvis' Identiy?
Highest Court D. New Jersey
Year Ended 1981
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Defendants Theatrical Producer(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description This is an absurdly lengthy court opinion (53 pages in the official reporter), discussing whether Defendants' presentation of an Elvis-themed variety show, "The Big El Show," which simulated many of Elvis's most famous performances, violated Presley's various rights to market his name, likeness, image, and identity. Defendants' show began operating in 1975, two years before Elvis's death, and continued until the time of this suit. Regarding the right of publicity, the court held that, as a property right, individuals' rights to their publicity survive their death and thus Plaintiffs' action may be maintained. Furthermore, Defendants' show was presented largely to trade on Elvis's likeness, and not for commentary or news reporting, and thus Plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits. In the trademark field, Defendants' use of images (such as silhouettes) was held infringing, but not his mere use of the "Big El Show" title, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act was not so clear. Regardless, the court granted Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction; in addition to likely success on publicity grounds, the court held that harm to Plaintiff without one would outweigh potential harm to Defendants with one, and that equities balanced in Plaintiff's favor. Preliminary injunction issued. - LSW


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16. Elvis & Ex Defamatory "Rendezvous"
Highest Court Fifth Circuit
Year Ended 1980
Plaintiffs Girlfriend of Artist(s)
Individual(s)
Defendants Newspaper Publisher(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description In an interesting case discussing libel laws and public figures, Anita Wood and Johnny Brewer sued the publishers of "People," when it featured a column insinuated Wood had a sexual encounter with Elvis Presley in 1972. Wood had once been a popular singer who had an earlier fling with Presley, and Brewer was her husband, a former Ole Miss football star. The article said Wood and Brewer were divorced, which was untrue. A jury initially found in their favor for over $800,000, but the appellate court reconsidered and held the First Amendment barred recovery. Wood, even though less famous now, was still a public figure regarding her connection to Elvis, and no "malice," or knowledge of/reckless disregard for falsity had been proven. Plaintiff had not proved malice with "convincing clarity." - LSW


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17. Elvis's Posthumous Publicity (I)
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 1980
Plaintiffs Nonprofit Organization(s)
Defendants Factors, Etc.
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description While Elvis Presley was alive, he first conveyed all his marketing rights to Colonel Tom Parker and then another company. That company, after Presley's death, conveyed the rights to the defendant. The plaintiff, a non-profit company seeking to erect a statue of Presley, began seeking contributions to raise the statue. Plaintiff accused the defendant of interfering in its fundraising efforts, arguing that death puts someone's image in the public domain, The defendant argued that their rights to Presley's commercial rights survived his death. The district court enjoined the plaintiff from fundraising, relying on protections to exploit one's publicity rights. The appellate court analogized to the lack of a claim for defamation after a person's death, finding their to be no economic benefit to allowing Presley's heirs or assigns to hold the rights. - JMC


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18. Elvis's Posthumous Publicity (II)
Highest Court N.D. Ohio
Year Ended 1980
Plaintiffs Music Merchandiser(s)
Defendants Factors, Etc.
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description This is a federal court opinion in Ohio, in which the court was asked to decide whether the state of Ohio recognized a "right of publicity" as a separate cause of action from any intellectual property rights granted by state and federal laws. The court held that not only did Ohio recognize such a right, but that it was not preempted by the Copyright Act, as it protected entirely different interests, such as likeness, appearance, endorsements, etc. However, given the recent 6th Circuit decision ("Elvis's Posthumous Publicity (I)"), in which it was held the right of publicity did not extend beyond the life of the artist, the court cautioned that its holding here (regarding preemption) may be moot at a later time. But the issue of inheritability was not yet ripe in this case. (A later case, "Two Nonprofit Elvis Institutions?," does a good job explaining why "publicity" rights are inheritable, but "privacy" rights are not.) - LSW


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19. Elvis Press Conference is a "Record"?
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 1972
Plaintiffs Buddah Records
Magazine Publisher(s)
Defendants RCA Records
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Plaintiff, producer of multimedia magazine "Current Audio," was schedule to release its first issue featuring a 45 minute press conference held by Presley on vinyl, pressed and released by Buddah Records. Plaintiff sued for declaratory judgment that their release did not infringe RCA's exclusive right to release "performances" by Presley, according to the record contract he'd previously signed with them. The court granted Plaintiff's motion, finding no infringement of RCA's rights, which were for musical performances according to the contract, and did not extend to things like press conferences or off-the-cuff remarks. - LSW


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20. Battle Over "Hound Dog" Rights
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1957
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Otis, Johnny
Defendants Leiber & Stoller
Music Publisher(s)
Other Presley, Elvis
Short Description Johnny Otis was a band leader, producer, and--relevant here--the owner of a music publishing company, which is the Plaintiff in this suit. Otis arranged for a recording of the R & B classic, "Hound Dog, " wtitten by in infamous Jewish songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, performed by Big Mama Thornton, and released by Peacock Records. This version was published through Spin Music, in which Otis had an interest. By arranging the session, Otis said he was granted a 1/3 interest in royalties the song, which was relatively standard practice at the time. However, he also incorrectly included himself as a "co-author," also relatively standard at the time, and represented himself as such in dealings with a third-party publisher, Lion Music. When Lion noticed that the three signatures on the contract matched Otis's, Lion inquired of Leiber & Stoller, and were told Otis was in fact not a co-author, but merely owed 1/3 of the royalties received by Spin Music. An agreement was reached in which Otis admitted as much and received $750 in release of all claims he may have regarding the song. Lion licensed the song to Elvis Presley's publisher for his well-known iteration, which was released crediting only Leiber & Stoller as this song's authors. The version was obviously very successful, and Otis's publishing company sued, alleging Otis co-authored of the song and thus Plaintiff was owed royalties. The court, based on the facts of the song's composition and the signed release, refused Otis's claim, and the credit and royalties went to Leiber & Stoller. - LSW


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