Robin Williams made sure there would be no exploitation of his image for 25 years after his death, the Hollywood Reporter wrote Monday. This means the earliest anyone can see an unapproved advertisement with the comedian -- or even a hologram of him in a film -- will be 2039. The Oscar-winning actor was able to do so by leaving the rights to his likeness, name, signature and photograph to the Windfall Foundation, a charity created by his legal team.
"It's interesting that Williams restricted use for 25 years," an estate planning expert told THR. "I haven't seen that before. I've seen restrictions on the types of uses -- no Coke commercials, for example -- but not like this. It could be a privacy issue.”
Privacy indeed could have been the comedian’s main thought. His third wife, Susan Schneider, and his three children -- Zachary, Cody and Zelda -- have stayed out of the media in general. Zelda, however, set the record straight about her father’s estate after rumors swirled that comedian’s children and widow were fighting over items like his jewelry, clothing, furniture and that the Williams kids went to the home he shared with Schneider in Tiburon, California, to take the items. Zelda issued a post to her Tumblr account to refute the rumors.
Privacy lawyer Rachel Alexander told the Guardian it was strange move. “It is quite unusual for someone to do this. It is symptomatic of the fact that there is commercial gain to be made from someone’s image or likeness, both when they are alive and afterwards, so it emphasizes that,” she said. “The motive behind this seems to be firstly that Robin Williams wanted to make sure his image isn’t tarnished, with unauthorized images used in adverts, for example, or films, which technology has now made possible. I think it is very likely we will see more people doing it.”
As THR noted, the alleged feud between Williams’ widow and his children has taken precedence over the restricted exploitation of his image. It’s something other celebrities might do in the future, especially after what happened with Michael Jackson’s estate. The King of Pop’s estate owes more than $500 million in taxes from his publicity rights and nearly $200 million more in penalties.
If Williams’ charity is not deemed suitable for a deduction by the Internal Revenue Code, the comedian’s publicity rights will be donated to charities like Doctors Without Borders, Make-a-Wish and more that are eligible for such a deduction.
Follow me on Twitter @mariamzzarella