Celebrity Divorce and Intellectual Property Rights

by Thailand Lawyer on May 11, 2011

Celebrity divorces tend to be sensationalized in the media.  Other than the huge amount of money involved in celebrity split-ups, most of the issues are not very different than in non-famous people’s divorce cases.

Thailand is no different than Western nations in that celebrity divorces become news for the masses and are followed with great interest by the Thai public. What may differ however is that Hollywood celebrities’ assets often include complicated business interests including future income based on copyright and other intellectual property rights.   Hollywood’s system of copyrighting motion picture and other media rights are often the subject of extensive courtroom battles and when concepts of divorce law are thrown into the mix, it becomes a lawyer bonanza.  Perhaps attorneys are only second to movie stars in Hollywood’s pantheon of celebrities.

Most divorce cases are not between artists and publishers and rarely involve Intellectual Property Rights.

Most people realize that a divorce involves a sometimes bitter dispute over financial assets, bank accounts, home and property, retirement accounts and other odds and ends that need to somehow be divided between the divorcing couple. All of these belongings, however, are tangible in the here and now.

Intellectual Property rights, on the other hand, can refer to the exclusive rights of intangible assets, including literary, musical or other artistic endeavors; inventions or new discoveries; or even designs, phrases, words or symbols.

Intellectual Property can be broken down into a few common types:

  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Trade Secrets
  • Industrial design prints

Basically what this means is, when a celebrity divorce turns sour it might be due to a increasingly frenzied battle over intellectual property rights that could end up being worth millions of dollars.

A case in point is the continuing saga of Michael Douglas’ divorce with his first wife, Diandra. Although Douglas is now married to Kathryn Zeta Jones, the divorce proceedings with his former wife have spanned across fourteen years of legal proceedings. Due a divorce settlement reached by the couple in 2000, it was decided that Michael Douglas would provide Diandra with half of the earnings he made as an actor while they were married, including any ancillary or merchandising rights. The agreement also apparently contained terms that provided for Diana to be entitled to any future “spinoffs” of Douglas’ acting efforts.

In effect, Diandra has now filed suit yet again, stating that she is entitled to half of Douglas’ earnings from his recent film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Due to the fact that Douglas played a character that was developed by Douglas in the original Wall Street film (which was produced during the time they were married), Diandra is seeking half of his earnings from the newest film.

Now, the case is hinged on a question of whether the newest film can be considered a sequel, or a spinoff. And if it’s deemed a spinoff, she will receive rights to half of his earnings. This is the point where the case enters into questions of intellectual property rights.

One of the most important things to note in any divorce case is that anything of value that is created or earned during the course of marriage must be divided among both parties.

When you’re a high-profile celebrity earning millions of dollars a year, this kind of case can reach a whole new level and will certainly require the guidance of attorneys experienced in Intellectual Property Rights and divorce law to reach a suitable outcome.

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