Thursday, February 14, 2002
Friedemann O’Brien Goldberg & Zarian Names Bela G. Lugosi Of Counsel
By NICK YULICO, Staff Writer
Bela G. Lugosi, a well-known Los Angeles trial and entertainment lawyer and son of the actor famed for his portrayals of Count Dracula, has become of counsel to the downtown office of Friedemann O’Brien Goldberg & Zarian.
Lugosi is returning to full-time practice of law after having spent several years as an executive at Comedy III Productions, owner of the licensing rights to the Three Stooges, and at his own company Lugosi Enterprises.
Lugosi told the MetNews he left Comedy III to start Lugosi Enterprises to exploit the name of his father.
“Now I have time to practice law again,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to practice in the areas of business litigation and intellectual property law with this dynamic and growing firm.”
Recently, he served as lead trial and appellate counsel in Comedy III v. Saderup in which the California Supreme Court reaffirmed celebrities’ post-mortem rights of publicity in the state. The high court agreed that an artist’s use of the Stooges’ images to sell T-shirts and other merchandise was a violation of the heirs’ right to control commercial exploitation of the likenesses rather than a “transformative” use.
As full-time of counsel to the firm, Lugosi said he will advise on copyright and trademark trials the firm is handling later this year.
Partner Robert O’Brien said Lugosi would be principally involved with the post-mortem right infringement cases the firm is handling for the widows of deceased astronauts, Pete Conrad and Jim Irwin, from the Apollo 15 mission.
“His name has been associated either as plaintiff or as lead counsel in the most important right of publicity cases in California over the past 15 years,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said the firm was handling 30 to 40 right-of-publicity cases each year and was looking forward to receiving the benefit of Lugosi’s expertise.
“We feel that with Bela coming to our team, we will have one of the preeminent practices in such areas in Los Angeles,” he said.
Lugosi’s association with post-mortem rights of publicity began when Universal Pictures started using his father’s image after his death.
In the 1960’s, the young Lugosi filed suit against the motion picture company when it started licensing his father’s image for commercial products. The trial court ruled in Lugosi’s favor and awarded the plaintiffs the royalties Universal Pictures had gained from the sales.
But an appeals court overturned that decision and finally in 1979, the California Supreme Court, in Lugosi v. Universal Pictures, ruled that Lugosi did not inherit any rights that Universal Pictures infringed. It said the Lugosi name and likeness could not pass on to the actor’s heirs, since the right of publicity died with Lugosi.
However, the California Assembly passed a “Celebrities Rights Act” in 1985 which said that rights of publicity survive the celebrity’s death and descend to heirs by wills, among other means.
After graduating from USC Law School in 1964, Lugosi practiced law for 32 years at the Los Angeles litigation boutique Hanna & Morton before joining Comedy III.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company