Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Fight to control Marilyn Monroe's images rages on

MonroeHow much control should the estates (heirs and beneficiaries) of a deceased celebrity have over the use of the decedent's persona property?  This battle is now being fought over the use of images of Marilyn Monroe.

The following excerpts are from Laura Parker, Court cases focus on famous faces, USA Today, Oct. 2, 2007, at 1A and Laura Parker, Photographers' heirs seek a cut of Monroe fortune, USA Today, Oct. 2, 2007, at 4A.

The use of Marilyn Monroe's iconic face to sell merchandise has prompted her only heir to push for laws giving estates of deceased celebrities sole control over marketing their famous personas.

The feud is playing out in New York and California. It pits the rights of estates to approve any use of the celebrity's image against the First Amendment right to use images and words of famous people for purposes such as research and art. * * *

In New York, the right to market the images dies with the celebrity. A bill to hand estates power over the images stalled, despite support from Al Pacino, Yoko Ono and the estates of Babe Ruth and others. * * *

In California, where lawmakers are more sympathetic to entertainment industry issues, newly passed legislation clarifies and expands a state law that allows estates to control the marketing of deceased celebrities' images. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not said whether he will sign the bill. * * *

The central issue in the court fight revolved around a basic question: Did Monroe live in California, where estates' rights to market the images are protected by state law, or in New York, where estates' control over such images dies along with the subject?

Judges in both states settled the issue without answering that basic question.


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