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Whitney Houston Emmy Auction Sparks Lawsuit From Television Academy

Organization says that it only loans its trophies to award-winners

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has a message for Heritage Auctions: Get your hands off our Emmy.

The Academy has filed a lawsuit against Heritage over its planned auction of deceased singer Whitney Houston‘s Emmy Award, according to court papers obtained by TheWrap.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in California, says that the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program that the Academy awarded to Houston in 1986 for her Grammys performance of “Saving All My Love for You” still belongs to the organization. According to the Academy, it only loans the statuettes to the recipients, and retains the ownership.

The suit notes that the trophy is due to go up for auction June 24, with a starting bid of $10,000.

The Academy says it reached out to Heritage saying that the auction house doesn’t have the right to auction the Emmy, which was put up for auction by Houston’s estate. The lawsuit claims that Heritage asked the Academy for proof that the organization’s notice of ownership was attached to Houston’s Emmy when she received it, but when the Academy provided an affidavit from senior vice president of awards John Leverence, Heritage decided to ignore the Academy’s request not to auction or sell the trophy.

In a statement provided to TheWrap, Heritage Auctions president Greg Rohan states that the Emmy was consigned to Heritage directly by Houston’s family, and has still not received the proof that it asked of the Academy.

“The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences claims that at the time Ms. Houston received that Emmy statuette she signed an agreement that it would not be sold.  We have asked the Academy multiple times to produce that signed agreement but still have not received it,” Rohan said.

Rohan also wondered why the Academy is raising the issue now, after previously allowed other Emmy awards to be auctioned off.

“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,” Rohan said. “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.”

Claiming copyright infringement among other counts, the Academy is seeking to block the sale, along with unspecified damages.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.