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The right of publicity gives celebrities (and sometimes their heirs) a limited ability to control the use of their name and likeness. Initially developed as an outgrowth of privacy rights, the right is now more widely understood as akin to an intellectual property right, preserving the commercial value of the celebrity’s fame and preventing the misappropriation of goodwill. Unlike other intellectual property rights—patent, copyright and trademark—there is no federal statute that sets nationwide standards for publicity rights, which are left to the laws of individual states. For that reason, important questions, including whether publicity rights survive a celebrity’s death, can differ greatly from state to state. Two recent cases concerning two of the country’s most famous celebrities illustrate how critical choice of law can be to the posthumous right of publicity.

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