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The Vegas Wedding Industry Is Getting All Shook Up
Elvis Presley died almost 45 years ago, but the company in charge of the King’s image and likeness has started cracking down on the unlicensed use of the Elvis persona.
Elvis Presley died almost 45 years ago, but the company in charge of the King’s image and likeness has started cracking down on the unlicensed use of the Elvis persona. Up first are the Las Vegas chapels that advertise and perform Elvis-themed weddings. Authentic Brands Group (ABG) is responsible for licensing Elvis-related merchandise and is also responsible for the cease-and-desist letters sent to a handful of Las Vegas chapels last month.
The warnings don’t apply to tribute bands performing stage shows because those are protected by Nevada’s “right of publicity” statute. The chapels aren’t covered under these policies. Many of the recipients are small businesses located in Vegas that cater to couples (like Travis Barker and Kourtney Kardashian) looking for a fun alternative to a traditional wedding.
The letter instructed chapels to stop using “Elvis Presley’s name, likeness, voice image, and other elements of Elvis Presley’s persona in advertisements, merchandise, and otherwise” until they filed for the appropriate licenses with ABG. Chapel operators insist that ABG can’t prohibit a person dressed as Elvis from performing a ceremony at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, but it does affect their ability to advertise using Elvis’s persona.
ABG eventually followed up that they don’t intend to remove Elvis impersonators from Las Vegas wedding chapels. The Vegas wedding industry, beyond just the Elvis-themed ones, was hit hard in the first few months of the pandemic and this new development threatens a sizeable portion of that market. On average, about 200 weddings are performed each day in Clark County, but there were only 226 weddings performed during the entire month of April 2020. The Graceland Wedding Chapel, one of the more popular Elvis-themed options, conducts 6,400 weddings each year.
After heavy backlash, ABG has altered its language in subsequent letters to chapels and now seeks to establish partnerships with local wedding chapels instead of taking them to court. The reported deals range from a yearly fee of $20,000 to 10% of the sales on Elvis-related packages. Some operators have been asked only to pay a few hundred dollars per year.
ABG acquired Elvis Presley Intellectual Property Assets from CORE Media Group back in 2013 but has just begun to enforce their trademark rights against the Vegas chapels by establishing licensing agreements with many of the previously unlicensed venues. Regardless of the arrangement, it appears that ABG is looking to cash in on the potential increase in demand for Elvis-themed weddings following the release of the new Baz Luhrmann biopic, Elvis. If more couples head to Vegas to be married by an impersonator, ABG wants to be compensated.
Firms like ABG want to ensure they are maximizing the returns of their investments. The company has invested in different celebrity personas and doesn’t want to see other companies, like the Vegas wedding chapels, profit from their investments. ABG is attempting to regain its monopoly power on Elvis products and services. In order to do so, they must create barriers that keep other companies from entering the Elvis market and profiting from the King’s name, image, and likeness. Barriers to entry can come in many forms, but trademarks represent a government-endorsed barrier along with copyrights and patents.
There are limits to the length of copyrights and patents, but trademarks can be renewed every 10 years. From a social standpoint, these barriers are intended to incentivize firm investment in new products or in research and development. For artistic pieces, copyright laws are meant to reward individuals or companies for creating new entertainment options. While the intention may be well-intended, they also come with a lot of controversies.
There were 75,500 marriages performed in Clark County during 2021 [Clark County Clerk]
Elvis-themed weddings at the Graceland Wedding Chapel range from $199 to $799 [Graceland Wedding Chapel]
Elvis holds the record for most RIAA certificates – 299 awards in total – for his albums and singles [Guinness World Records]
McCarran International Airport is the 7th busiest airport in the U.S. and North America [Downtown Vegas Alliance]
Elvis performed 636 consecutive sold-out shows at the International and Las Vegas Hilton from July 1969 through December 1976 [Las Vegas Sun]