It was a technological feat that made history, wowed audiences, and brought a dead rapper back to life. In April 2012 at the Coachella festival in California, Tupac Shakur took to the stage with Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre. Since he had been dead for 16 years by 2012, it was a human-like hologram of Tupac performing before a “shocked and then amazed” crowd. Fast forward ten tears and May 2022 will see the latest technological advances in musical immortality when Abba returns to the live stage after a 40-year absence. But this time, they return as humanoids – the digital hologram “twins” of the original global phenomenon.

George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic has created holographic lookalikes that interact with a live band in a specially designed purpose-built theatre in east London, while Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha have provided the pre-recorded vocals and motion-captured movement which will then be reproduced by the digital avatars. The doppelgangers are more youthful in their appearance – seemingly in their 30s, when they were at the peak of their music fame – raising an interesting conundrum concerning Abba’s human mortality against their new immortality in the metaverse.

Abba’s music is undoubtedly timeless; the simple tunes with incredibly complicated structures appeal to millions. The “Abbatars” are a reinvention for a new audience, but will they continue beyond the lives of their originals, with new creators pulling the strings? Besides Abba and Tupac, there are other instances where “digital twinning” has been identified as a key money-making strategy. The digital band Gorillaz’ 2006 Grammy performance blended flawlessly with Madonna’s. And Richard Burton’s hologram performed on a global tour of War of the Worlds in another 2006 performance. 

Music in the Metaverse

Customizing 3D avatars has become a unique way for artists to create virtual brands across several digital platforms. They can connect virtually with fans and increase loyalty and engagement, while fans can interact, express themselves and experience new things. This is now achievable using AI software to make holograms, as researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated in an experiment that created holograms fairly instantaneously.

Ziva Dynamics a pioneer in simulation and real-time character creation, employs synthetic AI-powered avatars to create autonomous and complex movement simulations based on real muscle, fat, soft tissue and skin contact. In April 2021, in a project called Lost Tapes Of The 27 Club, Google’s Magenta AI was even used to compose songs in the styles of musicians who notoriously died at the age of 27, including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse. 

These technologies have the potential to create realistic synthetic and AI holographic representations of departed artists, allowing them to continue creating, influencing, and performing for future audiences. Epic Games, creators of the phenomenally successful Fortnite, predicts that digital twins will combine with the metaverse, an emerging network of fully immersive digital worlds.

Disrupting the Music Business

Whereas live tours are time-intensive and costly for new artists, a low-cost metaverse “tour” might be a new way for music lovers to see live performances, especially as virtual performances by Justin Bieber, DeadMau5, and The Weeknd have already become popular recently. In this emerging branch of the music industry, record labels and marketing firms could be replaced by decentralized autonomous organizations (“DAOs”), which are organizations that operate like cooperatives, making all decisions jointly. DAOs are already disrupting the music business – along with non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), which are a way of transferring property between people online. For instance, in October 2021, PleasrDAO – a collective of decentralized finance leaders, early NFT collectors and digital artists – paid $4 million for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin an album by New York hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan.

While the release of the album predates the rise of NFTs, PleasrDAO now owns the rights and has imposed strict restrictions on duplication, distribution, or public exhibition. A music-focused DAO like Pleasr may acquire opt to finance and organize events and manage fan-owned record labels and marketing agencies to secure investable commodities like first-edition LPs, artwork, and instruments. 

This could create a new, decentralized route to the market for artists free of corporate interests or interests of individual producers, developing a fairer landscape for the future. With digital avatars likely to be at the center of this new vanguard, it will be fascinating to see how it develops in the months and years to come – and whether it will be enough for music audiences.

Theo Tzanidis is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at University of the West of Scotland. Stephen Langston is a Program Leader for Performance at the University of the West of Scotland. (This article was initially published by The Conversation.)

In one of the first major right of publicity cases when it comes to non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), Miles Parks McCollum, the rapper professionally known as LIL YACHTY, is suing a trio of defendants for allegedly using his name and likeness to promote their metaverse-focused company without his authorization. In the lawsuit that he filed in a California federal court on January 27, McCollum claims that Singapore-based NFT startup OPULOUS and online music distributor Ditto Music, and the companies’ founder Lee James Parsons (the “defendants”) are on the hook for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and for violating his right of publicity in connection with their scheme to sell music-centric NFTs.

Setting the stage in his complaint, Grammy-nominated McCollum claims that in May 2021, he and his management engaged in introductory conversations with the defendants, who pitched their ‘music copyright-backed NFTs” venture OPULOUS, and the potential for McCollum to be involved in the launch of the company, which markets itself as “bring[ing] Decentralized Finance to the music industry, and changing how artists access the funding they need” by allowing individuals to purchase NFTs that act as fractional licenses to musicians’ sound recordings and thereby, enabling those NFT holders to earn a fractional share of the musicians’ digital streaming royalties in exchange. 

While “no agreement or deal terms were ever reached” for his involvement with the inaugural launch of OPULOUS’s products and services following two conference calls in late May 2021, McCollum claims that the defendants, nonetheless, “launched a press and advertisement campaign falsely representing that [he] was affiliated, connected, and associated with the OPULOUS platform” – and that his “copyrighted works would be offered for sale through the OPULOUS platform” – just seven days after the parties’ second and last conference call.

LIL YACHTY NFT

In connection with the OPULOUS launch campaign, which started on June 1, McCollum alleges that the defendants “utilized [his] name, trademark, and photograph” without his consent, including to alert consumers that OPULOUS was “kicking things off with a series of unmissable NFT drops led by world-famous artists, including Lil Yachty.” (In case the defendants’ pattern of co-opting his name and likeness in order to market the company to consumers is not enough, McCollum argues that they went even further and “maliciously utilized [his] alleged affiliation and involvement … as their flagship artist partnership to successfully raise substantial venture capital funds (represented as over $6.5 million), yet never remitted any monies to [him].”)

McCollum asserts that the OPULOUS ads “are likely to cause confusion, and have caused actual confusion, in the minds of the consuming public as to an association [between himself and] the defendants,” when no such association exists. With this in mind, he sets out claims of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and right of publicity violations, and is seeking an array of monetary damages, and injunctive relief “as allowable by law.” (State right of publicity laws protect against the unauthorized use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona in a commercial capacity.)

Reflecting on the start of the case, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz partner Jeremy Goldman, who co-chairs the firm’s Blockchain Technology Group, writes that “although the case arises from the wild west of blockchain and NFTs, the complaint appears to state a fairly straightforward celebrity false endorsement claim.” Unfortunately, he notes, “the case is unlikely to answer some hot legal issues that are just outside the periphery of this case, including under what circumstances the sale of an NFT using another person’s image violates their right of publicity, and the legality of selling fractionalized royalty streams via NFTs.” 

Meanwhile, Darren Cahr, who heads up Scharf Banks Marmor’s Advertising and Intellectual Property Practice, says that he expects various right of publicity cases to be “the next big thing in future cutting edge Metaverse litigation,” pointing specifically to right of publicity suits that center on: “(a) avatars designed to look like famous people in commercial contexts; (b) augmented reality overlays that make people look like famous people; and (c) metaverse ‘challenge’ ads that alter someone else’s commercial property or avatar to put your avatar into an ad ‘seen’ by others against your will.” 

A rep for OPULOUS stated in response to the complaint, “Contrary to the assertions in the complaint filed by Lil Yachty, Opulous’s uses of Lil Yachty’s name and likeness were all authorized by Lil Yachty and his representatives. We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these meritless claims.”

The case is Miles Parks McCollum v. OPULOUS, et al., 2:22-cv-00587 (C.D.Cal.)

In 1970, ahead of its 23 show European tour, someone from The Rolling Stones’ camp reached out to the Royal College of Art in London. The Mick Jagger-fronted band – just 8 years old at the time – was in need of a poster for the tour, which was slated to start that summer in Malmo, Sweden. The Royal College of Art’s recommendation? A Master of Arts student in his final year named John Pasche, who – following a meeting with Jagger – would come on board to design the classic 1930s and 40s travel-inspired poster to announce the impending string of shows. Pasche’s involvement would ultimately prove to be far from a one-off gig, as months later, Jagger called back. “The Stones were going to launch their own record label and they needed a logo,” and could Pasche – still a student at the time – “design it?” 

In a subsequent face-to-face, “Jagger showed Pasche an illustration of the Hindu deity Kali, which [he] had seen in a shop near his home and asked if he could borrow,” the New York Times recalls. According to Pasche, Jagger “was ‘more interested in the Indian nature of it,’ [with] Indian culture in Britain being quite trendy at the time, but the designer was struck” by something else. The goddess’s widely opened mouth and protruding tongue. He told the Times, “I just immediately picked up on the tongue and mouth.” In exchange for £50 and a £200 bonus, Pasche drew up various Pop Art-inspired takes of the tongue and lips logo, which the band would come to adopt as a central element of their branding. 

What “began as a tiny emblem, something to adorn a 45 r.p.m. single or the band’s letterhead,” according to the Times, “quickly became ubiquitous,” appearing on everything from stage sets and posters to t-shirts and lighters across the globe, and ultimately, turned out to be “the most famous logo in rock ’n’ roll.”  

The Pasche-created logo – which has long been registered in European Union by Musidor B.V., the Dutch company that owns and manages most of the band’s intellectual property assets – got the court treatment recently, with the Judicial Court of Paris determining that an unnamed third party in the business of creating fabric patches infringed the band’s trademark rights (as well as its copyright) when it co-opted the tongue and lips logo, and added a Breton flag motif, thanks to the likelihood that that unauthorized logo used by the defendant would give rise to confusion among consumers as to the source of the patches and/or the connection with The Rolling Stones when no such affiliation exists  In response to Mudisor’s copyright and trademark infringement claims, the defendant unsuccessfully attempted to make a parody argument, asserting that its take on the logo amounts to “satirical speech.” 

In what might otherwise be a straightforward infringement matter, French trademark attorney Victoire Leandri says that the case is striking given the court’s finding that The Rolling Stones’ mark is of “well-known character,” and thus, subject to heightened protections. In its February 25 decision, Leandri notes that the court referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision in the 1999 General Motors Corp. vs. Yplon SA case, which held that in order to be recognized as a well-known trademark, a mark “must be known by a significant part of the public concerned by the goods or services covered by it.” 

(Remaining “the leading authority” on what trademark holders need to prove in order to establish reputation in a mark, the decision in General Motors decision established that a decision-maker must take into account “the market share held by the trademark, the intensity, geographical extent and duration of its use, and the size of the investment made … in promoting’ the mark,” according to trademark scholars Robert Burrell and Michael Handler, who note that “significantly, in considering the level of reputation required, the decision-maker must consider whether the mark is known by ‘the public concerned by the products or services’ covered by the registration.”)

With this standard in mind, the Judicial Court pointed to an array of newspaper articles that “described the [Stones’ tone and lips] logo as iconic, even ‘the most iconic of all time,’ [and] that said that the logo is considered ‘the living tongue of The Rolling Stones,’ which has accompanied the band for 40 years.” In light of the “very close link between the [tongue and lips] logo” and The Rolling Stones, and given the significant level of media attention that the world-famous band enjoys, the court held that the logo is, in fact, “known by a significant part of the public, [is] used [widely], and therefore, enjoys a high reputation in the European Union.” Leandri states that the court’s decision also places significant emphasis on “the close and systematic link between The Rolling Stones’ trademarks” and the level of fame of the group, itself,” which the court found “directly contributes to the reputation of those trademarks.” 

As a result, the court held that the tongue and lips graphic “clearly refers, for the average consumer, to … a characteristic of The Rolling Stones’ universe,” and can benefit from the classification of a well-known mark.

In terms of the current status of the logo, the Times reported last year that it has “generated an enormous amount of money for the Stones,” citing the British public relations veteran Alan Edwards, who handled the band’s publicity in the 1980s, who says that the band “must have grossed a good billion [pounds] in concerts, record and DVD sales, merchandising and exhibitions,” while also using the logo “all over advertising” during that period of time, and the the decades since. Echoing this sentiment, Briffa Legal attorney Samuel O’Toole told the Times that famous tongue and lips trademark is likely worth “hundreds of millions of pounds.”

As for Mr. Pasche, he ultimately got more than the initial £250 paycheck for creating the logo, which was subsequently tweaked a bit by then-Andy Warhol collaborator Craig Braun before it first appeared on The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” album in April 1971. As the Independent reported that in 1976, “an official contract was drawn up between [Mr. Pasche] and Musidor BV,” at which point “the designer began receiving royalties for his work.” According to the British publication, the deal gave Pasche 10 percent of net income on sales of Rolling Stones merchandising displaying the logo, from which he “estimates he made ‘a few thousand pounds’ in total in royalties until 1982, when he sold his copyright to the band for £26,000.” 

Reflecting on the logo years later, Andrew Blauvelt, curator at large for the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, told the Times that Pasche’s “original and singular design,” has certainly “come a long way, despite having been done in a low-key fashion and at low cost.”

“Despite the ongoing pandemic, South Korean consumers are still obsessed with luxury goods,” Korean Bizwire asserted this week, pointing to the fact that Gen-Z and millennial consumers – who helped to generate $12.5 billion last year – were readily lining up outside of Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores early this year even as COVID-19 cases were rising. The assertion comes several months after Korean publication Financial News revealed that Korea’s three top department store chains all reported double-digit luxury goods sales for 2020 on a year-over-year basis, as consumers who have been unable to travel spend extra on personal luxury goods.

As the global luxury goods market has taken a hit as a result of the pandemic, with Bain & Co. revealing that sales for the segment dropped by 23 percent in 2020, the most significant plummet in sales Since the consultancy began tracking the market in 1996, “China and Korea have shown the biggest demand for luxury brands during the pandemic,” Korea JoongAng Daily reported in February. While the overall economy in South Korea “stagnated due to the coronavirus,” Seo Yong-gu, a professor of business administration at Sookmyung Women’s University, told Korea Bizwire, “the income levels of between 6 and 7 million [Korean] households actually rose,” prompting Korean consumers to exhibit “a strong appetite for luxury consumption.”   

COVID aside, the $12.5 billion Korean luxury market is growing, with Bizwire reporting this week that “the popularity of luxury goods in South Korean has bucked a global trend, as last year’s luxury sales worldwide ($286.9 billion) dropped by 19 percent from the previous year ($354.4 billion).” In charging ahead, the publication revealed that “luxury sales in South Korea outstripped Germany in 2020,” enabling the country to become “the world’s seventh largest contributor to the global luxury market.” Deloitte highlighted the strength of the market in its 2020 Global Powers of Luxury Goods report, stating that while consumers in Mexico, Chile, and India were less than optimistic about spending in light of the pandemic, consumers in Korea were among those that were “most secure about their finances,” and thus, more likely to shell out on more expensive purchases. 

It is presumably this luxury goods growth and willingness to spend, paired with the remarkable appeal of boy band BTS that has prompted Louis Vuitton to tap the 7-member-group as its newest global brand ambassadors. In a statement on Friday, the Paris-based group’s men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh said that he is “delighted BTS are joining Louis Vuitton today,” and revealed that he is “looking forward to this wonderful partnership, which adds a modern chapter to the house, merging luxury and contemporary culture.” Meanwhile, the superstar group asserted in a statement of their own, “Becoming global brand ambassadors for Louis Vuitton is a truly exciting moment for us. We are excited for our upcoming projects with Virgil Abloh.”

The move by Louis Vuitton to put RM, Jin, SUGA, j-hope, Jimin, V and Jung Kook at the front of its menswear division is the latest – and certainly, the most momentous – example of a Western giant looking to tap into the increasingly globalized appeal of K-Pop and its mega-stars. Worth an estimated $6 billion, K-Pop as an industry has become a global phenomenon, with brands both in and outside of Korea looking to the hyper-influential segment as a way to reach a pool of hyper-engaged fans. 

Chanel, for instance, has been tapping into Korea demand by way of former boy-bander G-Dragon, who has served as an ambassador to the French fashion house for several years. Speaking about the decision to enlist G-Dragon, Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, stated back in 2017 that “today, South Korea is the most influential country in Asia, with its energy and creativity, its youth culture and the pop music and TV celebrities, who have become incredibly powerful, even in China and Japan.” 

The appeal of BTS – and other K-Pop royalty – goes beyond Korea, though. “The success of its sprawling, genre-defying pop album ‘Map of the Soul: 7,’” for instance, was “a sign of how the rising K-Pop act is cementing its place in American culture,” the Wall Street Journal stated last year after the album hit No. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 chart, the band’s fourth chart-topper in less than two years. BTS – with its catchy, Grammy-nominated songs and sweeping social media followership – is “a success story that defies conventional wisdom about the kinds of music Americans will tune into – not least because the songs are mostly sung in Korean,” the publication’s Neil Shah wrote, asserting that “across style and subject matter, BTS’s music and squeaky-clean image appeal to millennial and Generation Z listeners who are drawn to themes of self-acceptance and empowerment.”

Looking beyond the increasingly sweeping geography of BTS super-fans – the group of individuals that refer to themselves the “Army” – and they do span the globe, the sheer level of fandom at play is striking. There is “a deep, even life-changing, attachment to the group and its message of inclusivity and self-love,” the New York Times revealed last year, noting that BTS’ biggest Army-level supporters, “don’t just attend concerts or buy the band’s seemingly endless stream of merchandise (although they do plenty of that), they have organized themselves into groups that perform a host of services on the band’s behalf, from translating a fire hose of BTS content into English and other languages … to running highly coordinated social media campaigns.” 

It is no wonder that Louis Vuitton – which seemingly foreshadowed the big BTS announcement when it dressed the band for the 2021 Grammys last month, where BTS was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance – wants in. Given the fact that its business largely depends on generating buzz in order to sell large volumes of branded leather goods and accessories, BTS seems like one of the most appropriate places to turn right now.

In a matter of 24 hours, Louis Vuitton’s first Instagram post announcing the addition of BTS to its roster of ambassadors has racked up more than 950,000 likes and nearly 30,000 comments. (For a point of reference, that is almost double the amount of traction generated by six images of Abloh’s S/S 2021 menswear campaign that Louis Vuitton posted several weeks ago combined). If such early Instagram traction is any indication, this is going to be a blockbuster pairing.

The Sean John brand may be inextricably linked to Sean “Diddy” Combs, but that does not mean that the company behind it can use the likeness of its famous founder without his authorization. That is what Combs asserts in the complaint that he filed against GBG Sean John LLC, GBG USA Inc., Missguided Limited, and Missguided USA (collectively, the “defendants”), accusing the companies of “using and exploiting [his] name, image, likeness, and persona … without his approval, permission, or consent,” and thereby, causing consumers to “mistakenly believe” that he is affiliated with an apparel collection that they launched. 

According to the complaint that he filed in a New York federal court on February 4, Combs claims that in the midst of “achiev[ing] a level of success, recognition, and fame in the music industry that few ever attain,” he expanded his career beyond the music industry to fashion, launching the Sean John clothing brand in 1998. Under his watch, the brand “rose to critical and commercial success as a premier lifestyle brand in the U.S. and around the world” before it was sold to brand management company Global Brands Group (“BGB”) in November 2016. (At the time of the deal, it was reported that Combs would “retain a minority interest –  believed to be around 20 percent – and [would] continue to be involved in the marketing and promotion of the Sean John brand.”)

Things seemingly went south last year, according to the complaint, when GBG entered into a license agreement with UK-based fast fashion brand Missguided “for the creation and distribution of [a] collection bearing the Sean John trademark.” Combs asserts that the license agreement was entered into without his “knowledge, approval, or consent,” and more than that, he argues that he never granted GBG or Missguided “the right to use his name, image, likeness, or persona in conjunction with the GBG collection,” nor has he ever “endorsed the GBG collection, which is branded as ‘Sean John x Missguided.’”

Nonetheless, “before the GBG collection launched on September 29, 2020, it received significant media attention,” with articles containing quotes attributed to Combs in which the rapper and entrepreneur appeared to be endorsing or otherwise connected with the collaboration. For instance, the complaint points to a quote published by 356retail.co.uk, in which Combs allegedly states, among other things, “Over the years, women have supported [Sean John], worn our iconic velour tracksuits and have been asking for a collection, so here it is!” 

The problem: “Mr. Combs never uttered the above statement attributed to him.” As such, Combs alleges that the defendants “jointly authored and approved the quote falsely attributed to [him] and never provided the statement to [him] for his review and/or approval,” which he says that they did not do because “they knew, or should have known, he would have refused” to endorse the collaboration. Combs claims that because his “name, image, likeness, and persona are an extremely valuable asset, he zealously guards his publicity rights and carefully evaluates whether, and to what extent, those rights may be exploited by others.” 

In addition to allegedly falsified media quotes, Combs claims that the marketing messages on the Sean John and Missguided websites include erroneous information about his connection with GBG and the Missguided collaboration given that GBG “was not founded by Mr. Combs, and he is not responsible for or involved in the ‘Sean John x Missguided collaboration.’” And all the while, Combs also takes issue with a 40-second advertisement for the collaboration that “promotes the apparel using … Mr. Combs’s name, image, likeness, and persona.” 

With the foregoing in mind, Combs states that he “does not challenge the defendants’ right to use the Sean John trademark” in connection with the Missguided collab since GBG is the owner of trademark rights in the “Sean John” name as a result of its acquisition of a majority stake in the Sean John brand in 2016. Instead, Combs is calling foul on GBG and Missguided’s “decision to leverage a fabricated quote they created and then falsely attributed to Mr. Combs, and to use [his] name and other monikers to create the false and misleading impression that [he] is the decision-maker behind the designs and creation of the GBG collection.” 

According to Combs, the defendants’ unauthorized use of his name and likeness, including “false or misleading representations of fact,” come in furtherance of their quest “to promote and sell the items in the GBG collection because they understand that associating it with Mr. Combs will significantly increase sales and profits.” 

In light of the defendants’ alleged failure to “take immediate and effective measures to correct the misperception and belief by the public that Mr. Combs endorses, sponsors, approves of, and is affiliated with the GBG collection,” Combs sets forth claims of common law right of publicity, and statutory right of publicity” under California state law. He is seeking monetary damages, and injunctive relief barring the defendants from “using, exploiting, or displaying [his] name, image, likeness, voice, or persona in any way … now or in the future, without [his] written consent or permission.” 

Are Trademark Rights Enough?

Interestingly, the case – which is not the first of its kind to be filed against Missguided (the brand was sued on right of publicity grounds by Kim Kardashian in 2019) – sheds light on one of the many issues that individuals could face in connection with labels they founded after a sale of the company has occurred. Combs’ claim that GBG and Missguided have relied on his persona in marketing the collaboration to help boost sales seems to suggest that: 1) consumers associate the Sean John brand with Combs, and that connection drives demand for the company, and 2) in such a situation, the most immediate trademark rights amassed in furtherance of a brand acquisition might not be the end-all, be-all when there is a famous founder or affiliated figure at play. 

In other words, it appears that while GBG maintains exclusive rights in the Sean John brand and affiliated trademarks, and almost certainly can craft marketing messages about the company’s origin story (including its famous founder) as long as they do not border on suggesting that an affiliation exists, GBG appears to be left wanting, namely for the ability to legally claim closer, endorsement-esque ties to its ultra-famous founder. This issue – and the delicate balance that it calls for – is likely to continue to arise as an increasing number of celebrities launch brands either under their own names and/or in which they act as the primary spokesperson.  

“You have to make something damn good and differentiated,” Michael Yanover, the head of business development at Creative Artists Agency, told the New York Times late last year in connection with the boom in celebrity beauty brands. Oftentimes, at least part of that differentiation centers, of course, on the celebrity at play, which inevitably boasts a huge base of fans that are eager to buy into things that that particular individual endorses. 

Tapping into such demand via their own ventures, whether it be apparel companies or beauty brands, “has the potentially huge prize down the road of an I.P.O. or a deal like [Kylie] Jenner’s,” Courtney Rubin wrote for the Times in November, referring to the $600 million that cosmetics titan Coty, Inc. paid for a 51 percent stake in the reality mega-star’s company. (Coty has since followed up the Kylie Cosmetics deal with a purchase of 20 percent of Kim Kardashian’s KKW brand in a deal that values the 4-year old company at $1 billion). The Wall Street Journal noted around that same time that Kylie Cosmetics is “part of a wave of fledgling cosmetics lines capitalizing on” – and thus, depending on – “celebrity founders and social media-driven marketing.” 

Given that these celeb-affiliated companies derive significant value from their famous founders operating in a central role (making them a critical marketing asset of the company), questions – and potential issues – abound if/when such individuals opt to ultimately sell off the company that bears their name and/or is so closely linked to their likeness, and move on to new ventures, as Combs appears to have done here. While the transfer of trademark rights in connection with the sale of a celebrity-founded and fronted label, and the subsequent operation of such a brand is not without a road map (it can a bumpy one if the company is an eponymous one), such a deal also requires an examination of right of publicity issues, namely, the right to use an individual’s name, image, and likeness in commercial settings in connection with the brand even after they have parted ways. 

This is likely to continue to prove a critical consideration as celebrities rush to leverage their fame by way of consumer goods brands, with the Sean John case potentially serving as a mere jumping off point for future squabbles. 

*The case is Sean Combs v. GBG Sean John LLC, et al., 1:21-cv-00996 (SDNY).