Whitney Houston Estate Sued to Block Emmy Award Auction

Whitney Houston in 2004
Whitney Houston performs during the 2004 World Music Awards in Las Vegas, September 15, 2004. The late singer's estate is being sued for putting up for auction an Emmy Award won by Houston in 1986. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Whitney Houston's estate is being sued by the organization behind the Emmy Awards to block the sale of a trophy won by the late singer in 1986.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences filed a lawsuit in California federal court Wednesday arguing the sale would tarnish the prestige of the award. It also claimed ownership of the statue, saying the Academy loans, not gifts, the awards to recipients.

"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," the court filing states.

In the event of a recipient's death, the award is allowed to go to "the artist's heirs and successors in interest to retain custody of copies to symbolize the achievements of the deceased honoree."

Emmy Award statue
An Emmy Award statue at the 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Award Nominations, Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre, North Hollywood, California, July 17, 2003. Vince Bucci/Getty

The Academy is suing for copyright infringement and asks the court to return the award to its possession. It claimed that all awards come with a notice that they cannot be sold.

Houston's estate is selling the trophy, along with other highly valuable memorabilia, through Heritage Auctions. The Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program was won by Houston—who died in February 2012—in 1986 for her performance of hit song "Saving All My Love for You" at the Grammy Awards earlier that year. "Saving All My Love for You" was the second track released from Houston's self-titled debut album and marked her first number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The trophy is currently listed for $10,000 and the auction is expected to end Saturday.

Heritage Auctions president Greg Rohan told The Hollywood Reporter the trophy was consigned to the auction house by Houston's family and they have not seen any notice that the artist agrees not to sell it.

He said: "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? 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."

The sale of awards trophies is a decades-long issue in Hollywood. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who present the Oscars, has strict policies in place, for example, prohibiting the resale of the coveted film industry trophies.

"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," the Academy Awards regulations state.

In addition to Houston's Emmy, Heritage Auctions is selling an MTV Video Music Award won by the singer for her "How Will I Know" music video, and another trophy for "Saving All My Love for You" earned at the American Music Awards. All three awards were won in 1986. It's not yet known whether MTV or AMA organizers Dick Clark Productions have similar protection in place over their physical trophies. (Requests for comment by Newsweek weren't returned at press time.)

Newsweek has reached out to the Television Academy and Houston's estate for comment.