Marilyn Monroe has undoubtedly been one of the most enduring figures in American popular history, even several decades after her untimely death. Most recently, her estate settled a long-fought legal battle over the rights to photos of the pop icon. At the center of the legal debate are post-mortem publicity rights, which have been addressed by Nevada laws, unlike many other states. Monroe’s estate administration has been contentious, due to legal contests such as this.
Sam Shaw was known for photographing many Hollywood legends, including Monroe. In order to make money after the photographer’s death, Shaw’s estate began to sell rights to use images of Monroe for merchandise, clothing and a documentary film.
As the photographer’s heirs began to benefit financially from the pictures, Monroe’s estate became interested in receiving a share of the money. A legal battle over the rights to use the pictures began in 2007 and has continued ever since then. Finally, Shaw’s estate was bankrupted by the legal proceedings. Monroe’s heirs recently decided to pay at least $3 million in royalties to the Shaw estate in order to secure her estate’s exclusive rights to a Shaw’s photographs.
All of the laws governing post-mortem publicity are on a state level. Because there are no national laws governing this area of estate administration, Monroe’s heirs were forced to fight their way through the court system. In the end, the two sides of this particular legal debate have reached a point of agreement, but such an agreement might not be reached in every case.
Fortunately, Nevada is one of the states that have addressed post-mortem photo rights, but there are areas of this law that might not be so clear. Those dealing with estates should be aware of how laws can affect their loved one’s legacy by considering trustworthy professional advice.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Why the Marilyn Monroe Estate Paid $3 Million For Photos of the Film Legend (Analysis),” Eriq Gardner, Jan. 26, 2012