LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has sued Whitney Houston’s estate and an auction house to stop them from selling the late singer’s Emmy award.
Whitney Houston’s Emmy award is on the block as one item among a large collection of memorabilia set to be auctioned off today and Saturday by Heritage Auctions.
The Academy says it owns all the Emmy awards, and merely lends the iconic golden statuettes to winners and their heirs. By retaining legal title, the Academy says, it safeguards the prestige of the award and protects its copyright.
It seeks a restraining order to prevent Heritage, Houston’s estate and her executor, sister-in-law Patricia Houston, from conducting the sale.
Were the sale to go through, “the American television industry’s highest honor” would be “at risk of being reduced to a mere commodity, available for purchase by any and all,” the June 22 complaint states.
“‘Primetime Emmys for Sale.’ ‘You Too Can Be An Emmy Winner — Buy Yours Here.’ ‘Emmys Available on eBay and Craigslist.’ ‘Emmys For Rent.’ These jarring entreaties could become reality if defendants’ highly-publicized and unlawful conduct is not enjoined,” it says.
Houston won her Emmy in 1986 for her performance of “Saving All My Love for You” during the Grammy Awards show. Her statuette, like all others, had a label attached to its base explaining the academy’s ownership and warning that if the winner or winner’s heir wished to sell or transfer the Emmy, he or she must instead return it to the academy to “retain … in storage in memory of the recipient,” according to the complaint.
When the Academy learned early this month that Houston’s Emmy was up for sale, it contacted Heritage Auctions, which claimed there was no label attached to it and demanded evidence there ever had been one. The Academy submitted a declaration from a senior vice president.
Greg Rohan, president of the Dallas-based auction house, said in a statement that he had been offered a copy of an agreement Houston supposedly signed promising not to sell the Emmy, but he has not received it.
Rohan said many other Emmys have been sold without controversy.
“Why is the Academy now demanding return of Houston’s Emmy when they did not stop over three dozen earlier public auctions of Emmy awards the past decade?” Rohan said in the statement. “Based on their behavior thus far, we think the Academy is simply trying to bully the Houston family, and we’re going to stand up for our consignor, regardless of the cost.”
Academy attorney Scott Commerson with Davis Wright Tremaine referred questions to a spokesman, Jim Yeager, who said he could not comment.
Similar lawsuits have been filed over Oscar awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences fiercely protects the Oscars. Since 1951, it has gone after anyone attempting to sell an Oscar without allowing it to buy it for $10.
The Emmy award Academy seeks an injunction, any profits if the sale goes through, the statue itself, and damages and punitive damages for copyright infringement and conversion.
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