Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Right of Publicity in USAToday

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.

It has attracted a star-studded cast on both sides and placed millions of dollars at stake for families and other heirs. The dispute is the latest round in a long-running debate over the right to market celebrities' images after they die.

BITTER BATTLE CONTINUES: Photographers' heirs seek a cut of Monroe fortune

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. The bill likely will be reintroduced.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: New York | Photographers | Lee Strasberg

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.

"There is a big argument that celebrities are in the public domain," says Greg Herbert, an Orlando attorney who specializes in First Amendment law. "Usually the motives of the estates are purely monetary. Are we going to reward people who are not the artists …? What's the public argument in giving them the right to control these photos when they did nothing to produce them?"

Hollywood's reigning sex goddess left most of her estate to her New York acting coach and mentor, Lee Strasberg. He left it to his third wife, Anna, when he died in 1982.

Anna Strasberg has made $30 million from Monroe's estate, court papers say. In 2001, she formed Marilyn Monroe LLC to manage it. It sells key chains, handbags and T-shirts with Monroe's image. In 2005, the company sued four photography archives that had been selling her photos to marketers of Monroe memorabilia.

The archives own the copyrights to the photos, but Strasberg claimed she controls the marketing and was owed licensing fees. The suits were split between federal judges in New York and California, who ruled against Strasberg in May.

The legislative push to get around those decisions began in June. Opponents, including the estates of Ray Charles and Marlon Brando, say the California bill will revoke the public's access to images and words of hundreds of actors and artists.

via USAToday.com

No comments: