Portrait T-shirts of dead musicians are among the most popular music-related merch that you can buy in just about every city in the world. The problem is that most of it is made by people who have no connection to the musical artists or their estates, so the money never makes it to anyone who has a connection to the face on the shirts. Bob Marley's family has been fighting to stop companies that create unauthorized shirts with the reggae legend's face on it, and according to Yahoo News, a recent court decision could give more power to musicians and their families in future cases of copyright infringement.
The family won $2 million in 2011 when they claimed at a Nevada court that they lost an order of T-shirts at Walmart because another company was already selling Marley shirts with the chain. The company, A.V.E.L.A, appealed the decision last week, but Judge N. Randy Smith of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Marleys. "This case presents a question that is familiar in our circuit: when does the use of a celebrity's likeness or persona in connection with a product constitute false endorsement that is actionable under the Lanham Act?," said the Judge in a statement. "We conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a jury to find defendants violated the Lanham Act by using Marley's likeness," he added, while also acknowledging that producing merch with Marley's likeness is a multi-million dollar industry.
By ruling in favor of a deceased celebrity, A.V.E.L.A. claimed that the court would "essentially create a federal right of publicity," a right that exists in various states but that does not exist at the federal level. The court found that the case differed from one that involved Princess Diana in that she had "done little to prevent commercial use of her image when she was alive," which is why her estate lost their lawsuit against the Federal Mint in 2002.