California Trademark Attorney® Blog

Brando Estate Sued Over Likeness Rights For Madonna Tour

October 1, 2012

concert.jpgCalifornia - Celebrity licensing company CMG Worldwide Inc. hit the estate of actor Marlon Brando and a rival licensing agency with a lawsuit seeking to enforce its rights to use Brando's likeness as stage dressing for the concerts on Madonna's 2012 world tour.
In its complaint, originally filed in Indiana state court in August and removed to federal court last week, CMG is seeking a declaration that a valid, enforceable contract between the parties exists. It also wants an order enforcing that contract by enjoining the estate and Brand Sense Partners LLC from bringing any lawsuits against CMG or Madonna in connection with the use of Brando's likeness under the contract.

CMG acts as agent and representative for internationally recognized celebrities as diverse as James Dean, Pamela Anderson and Jackie Robinson. In addition to its celebrity and brand licensing agency activities, CMG sometimes also acts as a clearance agent to help obtain permission to use trademarks, likenesses, rights of publicity and endorsements from heirs and estates of deceased celebrities not represented by CMG, it says.

In February CMG and the estate entered into a license agreement allowing Madonna to use Brando's likeness during the Superbowl halftime show that month for a fee of $3,750.

In May Madonna's tour company Bhakti Touring Inc. contacted CMG seeking assistance in clearing the Brando rights along with 10 other deceased celebrities, including James Dean, Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly and Joe DiMaggio, all of whom are featured in Madonna's 1990 song "Vogue."

For another payment of $3,750, the estate was supposed to grant the touring company the right to use Brando's image as set dressing during the live performances of "Vogue" on tour. Later in May, the estate increased the fee to $5,000.

By the end of the month, though, BSP and the estate began demanding $20,000 for the use of Brando's rights of publicity, in direct contravention to the terms of the agreement made earlier in May, CMG says.

"BSP and Brando's attempted repudiation of the permission agreement for the use of Brando [rights of publicity] by Madonna on her worldwide tour is detrimental to CMG," the complaint says.

"Absent a declaration that there is a valid and enforceable contract between Bhakti by its agent CMG and Brando by its authorized agent BSP and in light of the most favored nations status of the use of the rights of publicity of the other 10 deceased personalities, CMG will be materially and irreparably harmed," it says.