A ruling handed down earlier this week by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly gives Leon Hendrix, the much-maligned younger brother of the Seattle-born guitar god, the right to use his sibling’s name, likeness, and artwork. The Judge’s order closes yet another chapter in the bitter, prolonged legal battle between Leon and his stepsister Janie Hendrix over control of their brother’s legacy.
In handing down the decision, Zilly also declared Washington’s “Right of Publicity” law unconstitutional. The law allowed anyone to claim publicity rights in Washington even if they had no connection to the state.
Leon Hendrix, profiled by Mike Seely in our March 9, 2009 issue, was cut out of the Hendrix estate by his father Al. Leon struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, and one of Al’s dying acts was to change his will to make Janie Hendrix the sole heir to the Hendrix empire.
The estranged siblings battled in court for years over the trademark and licensing rights to Jimi’s songs and likeness. Janie eventually prevailed, but Leon and others continued to search for new ways to cash in on Jimi’s name. That led to this week’s ruling, which centered on Leon and an associate named an entrepreneur named Andrew Pitsicalis selling “posters, fine art prints, apparel, and other novelty items” bearing Jimi Hendrix’s name and image at Spencer’s Gifts stores at a shopping mall near you.*
*Al Donohue, attorney for Experience Hendrix, calls to offer the following correction: “Leon Hendrix is not a party lawsuit and was not an owner or member of Hendrix Licensing or HendrixArtwork.com, however he is associated with Pitsicalis’ new compnay Rockin Artwork.”
The judge ruled that these endeavors did not violate a previous court injunction that barred Leon and his business partners from selling “Hendrix Electric Vodka.” Citing a another, separate ruling that gave the nonprofit James Marshall Hendrix Foundation the right to use Jimi’s name and likeness, Zilly said that while Janie Hendrix and her Authentic Hendrix and Experience Hendrix LLC companies own the rights to Hendrix’s music catalog and various trademarks (including “Foxy Lady,” “Purple Haze,” “Stone Free,” and others), she does not have absolute control over every single piece of junk that vaguely resembles or references Jimi.
The judge did note that Leon violated some laws by registering the website HendrixLicensing.com, and a jury trial will be held in May to determine the damages.
This post has been updated to reflect the clarification provided by Al Donahue, attorney for Experience Hendrix.