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Robyn Astaire to fight ruling

The widow of Fred Astaire vowed to appeal a court ruling that allows a video company to use clips of the legendary dancer in a series of instructional dance videos.

The decision issued last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was “deeply disappointing,” Robyn Astaire said Tuesday.

“It was so unexpected,” she said. “I fully intend to forge ahead on this. It is not right.”

Astaire said she would ask the entire court to refer the case to an 11-judge panel for a new hearing.

The court ruled 2-1 last Friday that Best Film & Video Corp. could begin a series of how-to videos with clips of Astaire dancing in the movies “Second Chorus” and “Royal Wedding” without the consent of his widow.

The case drew much attention from the industry, because it lays the groundwork for future decisions on the use of a deceased celebrity’s persona without the permission of an estate.

The state law prohibits the use of celebrity clips to promote a commercial product without permission from the estate, but the court said they could be used to promote films and other projects, including the dance videos.

But Robyn Astaire said the judge’s decision means estates “should be deprived of any rights to control” a celebrity’s persona.

“They have no right to object no matter how objectionable the use of the image is,” she said.

Astaire’s case had drawn support from the Screen Actors Guild and the Artists Rights Foundation, while several major studios and networks backed Best Film and Video Corp.

Best’s attorney, George Hedges, said the decision is significant because producers will no longer be tied up in litigation when using celebrity clips in projects such as documentaries. He also said it frees up the use of public domain materials in such projects.

But Robyn Astaire said “public domain material is for copyright purposes, not for the right of publicity.”

Although it did not enter into the case, Astaire had drawn criticism for allowing Dirt Devil to use her late husband’s image in commercials that feature scenes of him dancing with a vacuum cleaner.

But she said that permitting the use of Astaire “enabled me to keep pursuing this vocation in fighting for the rights of actors.”

“The public loves it,” she said. “They get a big kick out of it.”

She said “there’s not any doubt in my mind” that her late husband would have approved such use of his image. She pointed out that Astaire was able to have fun with his image when he was alive, once appearing on an episode of “Battlestar Galactica.”

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