6 January 2020TrademarksRory O'Neill

Whitney Houston estate looks to block tribute tour

Whitney Houston’s estate is suing the promoters of a tribute act for misappropriating the late singer’s name and likeness.

According to a lawsuit filed January 3, Australian production company Showtime Management’s “The Whitney Houston Show” so “excessively copied and unlawfully exploited Houston’s persona that [it] went far beyond what one can reasonably call a ‘tribute’ show”.

The latest edition of the show also violates a settlement agreement that forbids the show’s promoters from using the singer’s name, the estate claimed.

The complaint, filed at the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, is the culmination of a long-running dispute between Houston’s estate and the production company.

Houston’s estate registered a US trademark for her name in 2014, two years after her death. The mark covers classes 9, 16, and 25, including music recordings, concerts, posters and clothes.

Showtime’s tribute, which features singer Belinda Davis, is set to begin a US tour on January 11.

After learning of the show in May 2018, Houston’s estate took issue with the accuracy of Davis’ tribute to the late singer.

According to the complaint, the show is built around an impersonation of Houston’s vocals and mannerisms, down to the outstretched arms gesture which it calls the “Whitney Pose”.

The parties had reached a settlement in September 2018, which stipulated that the show be renamed to the “The Greatest Love of All”, accompanied by an approved tagline such as “A Tribute to Whitney Houston”.

Under the terms of the settlement, Showtime’s website currently uses a disclaimer stating that the show is “not associated with the estate of Whitney Houston”.

Other tribute shows, themed around Prince and Tina Turner, are advertised with similar disclaimers on the site.

In November 2019, the estate learned that the tribute was being promoted as “The Whitney Houston Show”, and used unapproved taglines including “A Heartfelt Tribute to Whitney” on its posters.

The estate fears that the tribute could represent unfair competition as it prepares to launch its own hologram-based Whitney Houston show.

The estate has asked the court to issue an injunction blocking the show’s US tour, set to begin this week, from going ahead.

An advert for the show on Showtime’s website currently links to law firm Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, which is representing Houston’s estate in the dispute.

WIPR has contacted Showtime Management for comment in response to the lawsuit.

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