“That’ll be the day when I die”

Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley, (he later dropped the “e”) was killed in a plane crash in February 1959 aged 22. A singer/songwriter who influenced the Beatles and Rolling Stones amongst others produced some of the most distinctive and influential work in rock music.

As Buddy died intestate his widow Maria who he married almost six months prior to his death inherited the rights to his name, image and related trademarks, and other intellectual properties, including the royalty rights to his music. Maria signed half of the rights over to Holly’s parents. When Holly’s parents died, those rights were transferred to his brother’s, Larry and Travis and sister Pat.

Interestingly, the publishing rights to Buddy’s songs are owned by Paul McCartney’s company MPL Communications.

When Buddy died a persons right of publicity covering things such as their name, likeness or voice were not a valuable estate asset. In the intervening years several states have right-of-publicity statutes, the Texas statute (known as the “Buddy Holly Law”) expressly exempts the use of any deceased person’s name, likeness or voice in “a play, book, film, radio program or television program.”

Maria brought an action against Peggy Sue Gerron who released a memoir Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue? Claiming that it was unauthorised and harmed Holly’s name, her reputation and that of her company, Holly Properties. The book was published in 2009.

When he died, Buddy had earned a total of $60,000 in royalties. Since his death he has appeared in movies, music videos, and his memorabilia has been highly collectable; a pair of his glasses sold for $45,000 in an auction. His estate has generated millions over the years. However Buddy Holly’s legacy has been marred due to legal disputes among his heirs.

His widow, Maria, sued Buddy’s parents to assert ownership of his effects, including his Fender Stratocaster guitar. The city of Lubbock Texas where Buddy grew up has had difficulty holding events under his name which angers some of his fans who believe that the City hasn’t done enough to build a more productive relationship with Maria.

Similarly Holly’s heirs have argued that MCA Records Inc. has never fully accounted for all of its sales of Holly records so that an accurate amount of royalties owed to the Holly estate can be calculated. The lawsuit alleges that MCA took advantage of Holly’s elderly parents shortly after his death to establish royalty payments far below their market value.

Buddy’s older brother Larry stated “We know there have been many record sales, but very little (of the proceeds) has trickled down to us,”

The heirs argued that MCA has grossly underpaid the fair market value of royalties by reneging on its 1995 agreement to increase royalty payments to family members to 16 percent. The payments currently range from 10 percent to as low as 3 percent. The Court Found that MCA had underpaid royalties and awarded the heirs $500,000.

Buddy was young when he died which may have explained the reason that he hadn’t made a Will. However as he had a number of valuable assets, was married so should have made a Will disposing these assets, after all Maria was under no obligation to assign half of the rights to his parents as under intestacy she inherited the entire estate.

As we have posted before as part of planning for your future a will is important as among other things it nominates guardians for your children, and outlines any funeral arrangements you may have.

Dying intestate raises issues as your estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy. Importantly, it may not be possible to leave certain gifts to friends or make a bequest to a charity. So it’s important to make plans for your future so that your loved ones don’t have to deal with increased complications at an already stressful time.

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