There is perhaps nothing sadder and more telling of the innate flaws of human nature than the inevitable fight that often takes place upon the death of a popular and prolific artist. We’ve all seen stories of the genre: family is pit against record label over the rights to the now-deceased artist’s work, or worse still, family is given over to internecine fighting over those same rights. We’d like to think our own families would do better, but then again none of us can imagine either the talent involved in creating such work or the money and privilege now accessible to those in the artist’s orbit. We’re all good until such a point as we’re bad, in short.
Nor does this fighting seemingly have an end point, it seems. The brother and niece of the late guitarist Jimi Hendrix were recently found in contempt of court for violating an injunction against violating trademarks owned by the late rock star’s estate, according to Billboard. Leon Hendrix and daughter Tina, the brother and niece in question, had previously opened Hendrix Music Academy, and per court filings, had sought to create a raft of attendant merchandise that, per assertions by the plaintiffs, pretended at authenticity as Hendrix-affiliated merch.
The plaintiffs, in this case, were the managers of the Hendrix estate and its associated entities, Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix. Both entities were the creation of the now-deceased Al Hendrix, Jimi’s father, and are now overseen by his wife and adopted daughter. One might argue that the artist’s brother should have some claim over the name and likeness, but seasoned observers of IP cases know that such considerations have nothing to do with the law, and as such Leon had a judgement go against him in the amount of $402,018.53.
Leon and Tina Hendrix were not to be deterred, however, as the Hendrix estate alleges that the infringement continues mere months after the judgement. It’s hard to argue that this branch of the Hendrix family was seeking to get rich off of the family name, as the Hendrix Music Academy was a free school, but they did infringe in using the Hendrix name as well as images and the signature of Jimi on merchandise sold, as the court ruled.
There is perhaps nothing so disheartening as the idea that our own success could be the cause of the dissolution of our family (which is the only reason why I have not written the Great American Novel, and let no one say otherwise.) Copyright and trademark are what they are, and should be inviolable for the sake of creators everywhere, but it’s hard to see how or why they should serve as a dividing line for a family that has seemingly stuffed enough loss.