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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Beastie Boy's last rebel act complicates estate administration

Twin Cities hip-hop fans undoubtedly know the Beastie Boys not only for more than 25 years of contribution to American music, but also for the band's historically rebellious stance against commercialization of its intellectual property. Fans mourned the loss of bassist, songwriter and civil rights activist Adam "MCA" Yauch to cancer in May of this year, but the iconic hip-hopper set up one last act of rebellion to be executed from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, the artist's efforts to stand on principle may result in unexpected financial costs to his family and heirs.

As drawn up by his attorneys, the artist's will incorporated a clause commonly used by celebrities that prohibits the use of their image, name or likeness from being used for any advertising purposes. The uncertainty over his estate arises from a handwritten addition in which the artist directs that no music or artistic property created by him should be used for advertising purposes.

The problem stems from the fact that the handwritten addition affects property that might not be entirely owned by the activist artist. While his image and name are exclusively the intellectual property of the artist's estate, ownership of other intellectual property becomes much harder to sort out.

One issue that arises is just how much of an artistic work, such as a song, belongs to the estate when it was developed in collaboration with other musicians or artists. As an added complication, the artist's use of the term "advertising" leaves some room for speculation about whether he intended to prohibit the use of his intellectual property for any type of profit-producing activity.

More importantly, trying to sort out the artist's interests in copyright protected works will make it nearly impossible to pin down the value of the estate for tax purposes. His efforts to preserve the integrity of his legacy may deprive his family of the ability to profit from his work even as it forces them to incur steep legal expenses trying to sort out the practical effect of his last wishes.

Source: Forbes, "Part Of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch's Will, Banning Use of Music In Ads, May Not Be Valid," Deborah L. Jacobs, Aug. 13, 2012

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