This Sunday, the US-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be giving out its highly coveted Oscar awards for excellence in filmmaking.
Actually, that’s not true. The Academy won’t be giving anybody anything on Sunday. Instead, it will be loaning an Oscar to each award-winner, who may hold onto it for as long as she likes and even pass it on to her heirs, but cannot sell the gold statuette to anyone without first offering to sell it back to the Academy for the handsome sum of $1. If, instead, she tries to hawk it for cash, she’ll hear from David W. Quinto, the Academy’s lawyer, in about the time it takes her to second-guess her eBay starting price.
The Academy is extremely protective of the Oscar’s singular stature and has fought tirelessly to keep the award from becoming a salable commodity, and to purge the world of Oscar knock-offs. Quinto, whose firm has represented the Academy for the past two and half decades, sends notices to potential trademark violators almost every day: A confectioner that makes Oscar-shaped chocolates. Adult stores selling smutty Oscar replicas. Websites such as Oscarwatch.com.
Since 1950, Oscar winners have had to sign a contract guaranteeing the Academy the right of first refusal to buy the statuettes back should the winners or their heirs decide on selling.
By 2006, analysts estimated that some 150 Oscars had been sold in total, and about half of them had been awarded after 1950, meaning that their sale was in violation of the Academy’s contract, according to Forbes.
The Academy didn’t respond to a request for a copy of the contract, but it outlines its policy on its website:
Award winners shall not sell or otherwise dispose of the Oscar statuette, nor permit it to be sold or disposed of by operation of law, without first offering to sell it to the Academy for the sum of $1.00. This provision shall apply also to the heirs and assigns of Academy Award winners who may acquire a statuette by gift or bequest.
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