It’s nearly impossible to walk across a college campus without Bob Marley’s face popping up somewhere.  It may be on a t-shirt or perhaps hanging on a dormitory wall.  Sometimes it’s in black and white, other times it’s emblazoned with the Rastafarian colors of green, yellow, and red.

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Regardless of how it appears, it’s nearly ubiquitious at this point, and the Marley family is now taking action in recognition of the value behind the Bob Marley “brand.”  According to an article in the Guardian, the Marley family has has hired a Canadian private equity firm, Hilco Consumer Capital, to protect its rights to the brand.

So how much is the Bob Marley brand worth? According to the article, “[t]he Marley name, look and sound are estimated to generate about $600m a year in sales of unlicensed wares. Legal sales are much smaller – just $4m in 2007, according to Forbes magazine.” Hilco CEO Jamie Salter estimates that in a few years, Bob Marley products could bring in as much as $1bn, according to an Associated Press story.

Speaking of dormitory posters and t-shirts worn on college campuses, any idea what this guy is worth?

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Believe it or not, the Che Guevara image that appears on posters, t-shirts, and other assorted merchandise has actually been the subject of a number of lawsuits.  Cuban photographer Alberto Korda began asserting his rights to the image after Cuba ratified the Berne Convention on international copyright.

According to a story in the Australian, “[t]he new rules gave Korda a landmark legal victory in 2001 against the Lowe Lintas advertising agency, which had used his Che image in an ad for Smirnoff vodka. The Castro loyalist announced he’d donate his $US70,000 winnings to a children’s hospital in Havana.”

Korda died shortly after this suit, leaving his daughter, Diana Diaz, the exclusive rights to the image.  Ms. Diaz, for her part, has been fairly aggressive in protecting the image, having filed suit against Swiss t-shirt makers, Mexican burger chains, and French perfume makers, among others.

Intellectual property rights in celebrity images still occupy a strange netherworld between copyright and trademark.  Both forms of protection have their advantages and disadvantages.  If you’re lucky enough to be famous yourself or to at least have clients who are famous, the Marley family’s recent move highlights some of the potential value that underlies a famous icon such as Bob Marley.

And, in keeping with Bob Marley’s ethos, it’s not all about the money.  According to the Associated Press story, the Marley family “says it cares less about moving merchandise than about preserving the patriarch’s legacy in such efforts as the Marley organic coffee farm,” which promotes organic and sustainable practices and donates an undisclosed portion of proceeds to youth soccer programs in Jamaica.

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