The heirs of a photographer who took famous pictures of Marilyn Monroe did not violate the Hollywood star’s rights by selling pictures without the consent of her heirs, a federal judge ruled last week.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said that a company headed by three children of the late photographer, Sam Shaw, did not violate the rights of Monroe’s estate by using pictures of her on T-shirts marketed and sold in Indiana. Millions of dollars were believed to be at stake in the litigation.
The Shaw Family Archives Ltd. had asked the court to rule that a 1994 law did not create post-mortem publicity rights for Marilyn Monroe LLC. The latter company is headed by Anna Strasberg, the wife of Monroe’s producer, Lee Strasberg, who received the bulk of the star’s estate. He died in 1982.
The Shaw Family Archives case hinged in part on the Indiana Right of Publicity Act, passed in 1994, which established a right to publicity extending for 100 years after the subject’s death. The case was first litigated in Indiana before being transferred to Manhattan.
Millions of dollars were believed to be at stake in the litigation, in part because Shaw’s photographs include some of the most famous pictures of the pinup queen, including pictures of her standing over a subway grate for the 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch.
The decision could have repercussions throughout the licensing industry, where dead celebrities such as Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean, and others have become big business.