Right of Publicity
Marilyn Monroe Victory:
The Firm won a landmark and highly publicized right of publicity lawsuit involving who has the rights to the images of Marilyn Monroe. Judge Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled May 2, 2007 that Marilyn Monroe LLC (“MMLLC”) has no right of publicity in the name, likeness and image of Marilyn Monroe.
The case arises from a litigation that MMLLC and its licensing agent CMG Worldwide, Inc. (“CMG”) asserted in Indiana against Serbagi Law Firm clients, Shaw Family Archives Ltd. (“SFA”) and its licensing agent Bradford Licensing Associates (“Bradford Licensing”). Among the photographs owned by SFA and comprising the Sam Shaw – Marilyn Monroe Collection is a series of copyrighted photographs of Marilyn Monroe, including many famous Marilyn images like the iconic flying skirt series over the New York subway grate for the movie The Seven Year Itch. MMLLC and CMG asserted that SFA and Bradford Licensing violated MMLLC’s state right of publicity in Marilyn Monroe by licensing photographic images of Marilyn Monroe. SFA filed its own complaint in New York federal court for copyright infringement and other causes of action against CMG and MMLLC. The case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and both complaints were consolidated. New York federal Judge Colleen McMahon granted SFA’s motion for summary judgment that MMLLC has no right of publicity in Marilyn Monroe to assert because when she died in 1962, none of the states where she was possibly domiciled (NewYork or California) recognized a descendible postmortem publicity right. Thus, when Marilyn Monroe died she had no publicity right in her image to pass to her heirs or beneficiaries.
The Firm also successfully represented a company in the defense of images of Bruce Lee.