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Vegas wedding chapels are getting cease-and-desist letters over Elvis's likeness


For some, it's the American dream. You fall in love. Maybe you "Can't Help Falling In Love." Maybe you're "All Shook Up." And then it's "Viva Las Vegas," and you get hitched to your honey with the king by your side.


ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) I want you, I need you, I love you.

RASCOE: An Elvis-themed wedding is romantic, and it's been a big part of Las Vegas tourism for decades. That's why a cease-and-desist letter sent to multiple wedding chapels there has caused a stir. As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the letter was sent last month by an attorney for the Authentic Brands Group, known as ABG. This is the licensing company that controls the name and image of Elvis Presley. And the letter told the owners of these chapels to quit using Presley's name, likeness, voice, image and other elements of his persona in their ads, merchandise and otherwise.

Sarah Lester is the marketing manager of Vegas Weddings, one of the businesses that received the letter, and joins us now. Welcome.

SARAH LESTER: Hi, how are you today?

RASCOE: I am good. Thank you for joining us. So first, tell us, what was your reaction when you got that letter?

LESTER: My reaction actually completely aligns with the mayor of Las Vegas. So her statement was very, very strong. In fact, I'll quote it - it's, "these obviously are not people or a company that give a hoot about this community or its people." And that's how I feel about it because we do a hundred and twenty thousand weddings a year in Las Vegas. About a third of those are Elvis weddings.

RASCOE: Did they specify what would happen if, say, your company, the Viva Las Vegas Chapel, didn't comply with this?

LESTER: It was very kind of broad - just left a lot of people wondering, you know, what the licensing amount was going to be. With my experience in licensing, you're talking about thousands and thousands - up to a hundred thousand dollars. So what are we talking about here in terms of numbers in order to still use Elvis and still have that as a part of their business?

RASCOE: Well, let me ask you about that because we reached out to ABG about the cease-and-desist letter. They sent us a statement that said they were sorry their letter caused confusion and concern, it wasn't their intention and that, quote, "we are working with the chapels to ensure that the usage of Elvis's name and likeness are in keeping with his legacy," end quote. So it's just - are these kind of closed-door negotiations right now on licensing?

LESTER: It seems now that it's going to be, from what I'm hearing, a couple hundred dollars a year in licensing. So if that's the case, that's something that's reasonable. What - that's something that, at the very beginning of all of this drama, should have actually been expressed.

RASCOE: I mean, for those that may not understand, like, why do you think that Elvis is such, like, a huge part of the wedding industry in Vegas?

LESTER: It's not just the wedding industry. Elvis is the king of rock 'n' roll. You were playing Elvis' music, and I'm just like, man, I love the dusties (ph) and so do the young generations, because Elvis was coming out when rock 'n' roll - like, he was a rebel. Elvis got married here. He had a stage here. He loved Las Vegas.

RASCOE: Vegas and Elvis - they are linked eternally, just like marriage is supposed to be a forever link. I see it now. That's Sarah Lester, the marketing manager of Vegas Weddings. Thank you for talking with us.

LESTER: Thank you. You were fabulous.


PRESLEY: (Singing) So Viva Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.