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Bing Crosby's Publicity Rights Belong to Second Wife

An appellate court reverses a decision that found for his first wife.

Bing Crosby's image in a defunct Northern California restaurant. Patch file photo.
Bing Crosby's image in a defunct Northern California restaurant. Patch file photo.

Bing Crosby's second wife and her children are the sole heirs to the late entertainer's right of publicity, an appeals court determined in an opinion obtained today.

In reversing a trial court's opinion, the Court of Appeal found for Kathryn Grant Crosby in a lawsuit brought by Crosby's first wife, Wilma Wyatt Crosby and her heirs.

Wyatt and her children claimed they possessed a community property interest in Bing Crosby's right of publicity, even though they had signed a settlement agreement in 1999, waiving all community property interests in Crosby's estate, according to Kathryn Crosby's attorney, Cindy Tobisman.

“Right of publicity issues frequently cause major disagreements in families that often end up in court," Tobisman said. "Because this is an area where there is very little case law, this new decision provides important guidance for the heirs of famous people to understand who owns their right of publicity when they die."

The Wyatt heirs argued that publicity rights were not covered by the settlement because those rights did not exist until 2007, when the legislature amended the right-of-publicity statute.

Kathryn Crosby and her children argued that the Wyatt heirs had no interest in the singer's right of publicity both because they had waived it in the settlement agreement and also because the right was, in any event, separate property.

While the trial court found for the Wyatt heirs, the Court of Appeal, in a published opinion, reversed, finding that the right of publicity existed in 1999 when the settlement agreement was signed.

The estate of Bing Crosby's first wife is not entitled to revenues resulting from the popular entertainer's right to publicity, the Court of Appeal held Wednesday.

The opinion by Judge Walter H. Croskey reversed the order granting Wilma Wyatt Crosby's trust a community property interest in her former husband's right of publicity.

Bing Crosby died in Oct. 1977, leaving the residue of his estate to a martial trust for the benefit of Kathryn Crosby.

--City News Service

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