Television Academy Sues to Block Sale of Whitney Houston's Emmy

The statuette is a loan, not a gift, according to the lawsuit.
Chris Walter/WireImage; Courtesy of Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Whitney Houston

The Television Academy is suing to stop Whitney Houston's heirs from selling her Emmy statuette because the sale would tarnish the award, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in California federal court.

Houston's Emmy is currently listed at $10,000 on Heritage Auctions' website and is set to be sold on Friday, but the Academy says if the sale is allowed to proceed it will undermine the prestige of the award.

The Academy also claims the statuette is not actually Houston's property; the awards are loans, not gifts.

"When the Television Academy honors an artist for an achievement, it lends a copy of the Emmy Statuette to the artist to signify and symbolize the honor," states the complaint. When an honoree dies, the Academy "permits the artist's heirs and successors in interest to retain custody of copies to symbolize the achievements of the deceased honoree."

Houston won the Emmy for outstanding individual performance in a variety or musical in 1986 for "Saving All My Love for You," which she performed at the Grammys. The Academy claims there was a notice affixed to the bottom of the award that makes it clear an honoree or heir can't sell it. That notice wasn't attached when Heritage received it, according to the complaint, so the auction house has ignored previous warnings from the Academy. 

"The Television Academy has never intended that the Emmy Statuette copies be treated as articles of trade," states the complaint. "The original statuette is registered under the copyright laws as an 'unpublished' work of art: copies of the statuette are not, and never have been, offered for sale or given to the general public." 

The Academy is suing for copyright infringement and conversion. It is asking the court to have the award returned to its possession during the lawsuit and to make a determination of its rights in the Emmy.

Greg Rohan, president of Heritage Auctions issued a statement on Wednesday saying the statuette was consigned to the auction house by Houston's family and he has yet to be shown proof that the artist agreed to never sell the award.  

"Why is the Academy now demanding return of Houston’s Emmy when they did not stop over three dozen earlier public auctions of Emmy awards the past decade?" says Rohan in the statement. "Based on their behavior thus far, we think the Academy is simply trying to bully the Houston family, and we’re going to stand up for our consignor, regardless of the cost. In addition, Heritage Auctions will donate our entire commission earned on the sale of the Emmy to a charity of the Houston family’s choice."

June 22, 6:15 p.m. Updated with a statement from Heritage Auctions.