Recent Wins

GMSR wins publicity rights dispute for Bing Crosby’s heirs; Court of Appeal’s decision helps delineate publicity rights of celebrities and their heirs, brings stability to settlements by reaffirming the breadth of releases of claims

Bing Crosby v. HLC Properties, Ltd. (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 597 (California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Three) [published]. In an important decision for the entertainment industry, the Court of Appeal resolved a publicity rights dispute in favor of GMSR’s clients, famous crooner Bing Crosby’s second family. The decision also has more widespread ramifications, as it brings stability to settlements by reaffirming the effectiveness of broad releases of claims. Crosby’s two families settled internecine disputes over the division and distribution of “interest, dividends, royalties and other income derived from the community property of” Bing and his first wife in 1996; the agreement did not specifically address Bing’s statutory right of publicity. Although the settlement included broad release language that encompassed unknown and unsuspected claims, nonetheless, in 2010, the descendants of the first wife sued Bing’s widow and the family management company asserting that the global settlement did not encompass Bing’s statutory right of publicity. They contended that although the “deceased personality” publicity statute (Civil Code section 3344.1) was on the books in 1996 it did not apply to Bing prior to an amendment in 2008, so that his publicity right was nonexistent until then and fell outside the settlement. The superior court agreed, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the 2008 amendment was a mere clarification of existing law and that, accordingly, the publicity right existed in 1996 and the settlement agreement encompassed a waiver of any interest the first family might have had in that right.