Wednesday, September 5, 2012

9th Circ.: Monroe Heirs Can't Benefit from Calif. Privacy Law

English: Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Although Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose at age 36 in 1962, her image and persona have continued to generate millions of dollars for her heirs. But following an adverse ruling last week by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc. v. Marilyn Monroe, LLC et al (Case No. 08-56471),  her beneficiaries may have crossed the River of No Return (1954).

According to accounts in The New York Times and THR, Esq., the appellate court ruled that the Delaware-formed Marilyn Monroe LLC cannot benefit from California's right of publicity statute [Cal. Civ. Code sec. 3344] that allowed her estate to reap the financial rewards of holding onto the rights of a celebrity's name, likeness and image. Monroe was born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles, but was a New York resident when her untimely death occurred, the Ninth Circuit concluded, and the Empire State's right of publicity statute [N.Y. CLS Civ. R. sec. 50(2000] does not recognize posthumous privacy rights.

Forbes Magazine's "Top Earning Dead Celebrities" macabre feature indicates Monroe generated $27 million in income in 2011, placing her behind only Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley in that category in which stars are not eager to be recognized, for obvious reasons. Her litigious Estate sued to prevent a San Francisco company from selling images of the actress without permission, perhaps following the imperative of one of the actress's films, Let's Make It Legal (1951), but ultimately, its tax planning strategy worked against it in the Ninth Circuit decision. As another of Monroe's films noted, Something's Got to Give (1961).
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