Event Management

Will Vegas Events Be All Shook Up Without Elvis Impersonators?

Skift Take

Some Las Vegas wedding chapels have received cease-and-desist letters instructing them to make sure Elvis has left the building. What does this mean to events?

Some Las Vegas wedding chapels have received cease-and-desist letters instructing them to make sure Elvis has left the building. Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the company that controls the rights to Elvis Presley’s name and image, is demanding that chapels stop using Presley’s name, likeness, voice, and other elements in advertisements, merchandise, and more until they pay a license fee.

What does this mean to events?

“As the events industry continues to recover from Covid, it’s important not to forget nuances when planning gatherings. One of the things that should be top of mind is licensing,” said Chris Meyer, CEO of Chris Meyer Global, a company that creates strategic partnerships for events, associations, and exhibitions.

Planning to have an Elvis impersonator stroll a trade show or convention floor? Then you’ll need a license. However, if the impersonator will perform a few songs, you are okay, as impersonating someone as part of a live show is an exception under Nevada’s right of publicity law, attorney Mark Tratos, a founding member of Las Vegas firm Greenberg Traurig, said.  

“Think about it. In The Frogs, a Greek comedy by Aristophanes written in 405 BC, Dionysus disguises himself as Heracles. That is how long impersonating has occurred,” Tratos said, adding that Las Vegas wedding chapels were an easy target for ABG. “They have fixed addresses where an investigator can go and check to see if they are still performing Elvis weddings. At a trade show or convention, even if there is a strolling Elvis, an investigator can’t just walk in and check. They will need to register to get some sort of pass,” Tratos explained.

It also comes down to money. He believes ABG is now cracking down on the chapels as an Elvis Presley biopic will hit the big screen at the end of the month, starring Austin Butler and directed by Moulin Rouge’s Baz Luhrmann.

“The movie will be a catalyst for people to reimagine Elvis. ABG wants all who plan to do that to get a license, so they get a financial benefit,” Meyer said. “In this environment, everything has been upended, and intellectual property rights are in flux. We live in a litigious society, and its important event planners make sure they have the proper licensing for all aspects of their gatherings.”

After the cease-and-desist letters were leaked to the press and the story gained worldwide coverage, ABG released the following statement:

ABG is proud to be the guardian of the Elvis Presley legacy and is committed to protecting it for generations to come. We are sorry that recent communication with a small number of Las Vegas based chapels caused confusion and concern. That was never our intention.  We are working with the chapels to ensure that the usage of Elvis’ name, image, and likeness are in keeping with his legacy.

Elvis is embedded into the fabric of Las Vegas, and we embrace and celebrate Elvis fandom. From tribute artists and impersonators to chapels and fan clubs, each and every one of these groups help to keep Elvis relevant for new generations of fans.

Music Licensing and Events 

And it’s not just Elvis impersonators that need a license. Proper licensing is required to play most any music at your event. 

If you have your event at a major hotel, they will probably have a blanket music license in place, but it is important to note that in most cases, this license will not cover events. The three performing rights organizations that event planners should have on their radar are BMI, SESAC, and ASCAP, each representing different songwriters.

Steve Connolly, an entertainer who depicts Elvis, isn’t worried about backlash from ABG. He has been conforming to all trademark laws for the 26 years he has been performing. “I was told by the trademark department of Elvis Presley Enterprises that you can’t use Elvis singular or use the Elvis show. To abide by this, I named my show the Spirit of the King, purposely leaving Elvis out,” Connolly said. “You aren’t supposed to use Elvis’s name in a sentence, and it must be clear that you are not Elvis, and it’s clearly a tribute show. You also have to be aware of defamation of character, which has been thrust in the spotlight during the Johnny Depp trial.”

Not only does Connolly have a popular show, but he is also hired by event planners for meet and greets. “I have worked at conventions for every industry imaginable,” he said.

Jaki Baskow, CEO of Baskow Talent, has been helping event planners find the best speakers and talent for their events in Las Vegas for 45 years. “In all my years in business, I have never seen anything like this. Las Vegas is built on Elvis. He performed at the Hilton International Hotel and was even married here. When you say Las Vegas, you think of Elvis. It is not right to nickel and dime impersonators who are just starting to get back on their feet after the pandemic shutdown.”