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Fishers company loses Marilyn Monroe suit

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An intellectual property licensing firm in Fishers has lost a federal lawsuit involving iconic images of the late actress Marilyn Monroe and the right of publicity.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan ruled Sept. 2 against CMG Worldwide and its client Marilyn Monroe LLC, finding in favor of the heirs of New York photographer Sam Shaw regarding the question of who owns rights to photos. The judge granted summary judgment in favor of Shaw's trust, the Shaw Family Archives.

"We're obviously disappointed and don't like to be on this end of a court ruling, but it is what it is," said Mark Roesler, CMG's chief executive officer.

The photographer's trust sued CMG and Marilyn Monroe LLC in April 2005, alleging copyright infringement relating to three of Shaw's images that were used on merchandise without permission. The Indiana company argued that it owned Monroe's right of publicity and asked the court to decide that the late actress was a California resident when she died in 1962.

Monroe's home at the time would have determined the right of publicity based on laws in California and New York - California passed a law in 1984 granting celebrities a post-mortem right of publicity, while New York doesn't recognize that right. A suit originally filed in the Southern District of Indiana was consolidated in California to address that issue.

In March, U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow of the Central District of California in Los Angeles ruled on the similar federal suit and determined that CMG and Marilyn Monroe LLC didn't own rights of publicity in that state because the famous actress didn't reside in that jurisdiction at the time of her death.

In deciding the issue, the court looked at claims Monroe's estate made that she resided in New York. The judge agreed based on an inheritance tax appraiser who'd filed a report on that topic.

Attorneys have appealed that California ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in the meantime Judge McMahon in New York has determined the two cases and issues are virtually identical. The only difference is that it involves a different photographer. She supported her California colleague's finding and came to the same conclusion.

Figures from 2007 show that Monroe has raked in more than $30 million in licensing fees in the last dozen years for everything from TV commercials to T-shirts - with roughly 25 percent of that windfall landing in CMG coffers.

CMG's Roesler said this ruling and the one in California have no bearing on any of its other 250 clients encompassing hundreds of celebrities such as James Dean, Elvis Presley, and John Wayne.

"What this (N.Y.) court is trying to say is that because it says she was domiciled in New York, Marilyn Monroe LLC can't prevent photographers from using images they took of her. This is a narrow decision and we fully expect to appeal," Roesler said.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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