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Counselor at Law, P.C.
Business & Employment Law Attorney

Judge rules rights to Marilyn Monroe images belong to trust

Colorado readers may be interested to learn that a landmark ruling has been made regarding the copyright interests of the last professional photographs ever taken of Marilyn Monroe. On July 20, a federal judge in New York ruled that 2,571 images from the late photographer Bert Stern’s famous “Last Sitting” collection belong to a trust set up for his heirs.

The rights to the photographs, which were taken weeks before Monroe’s death in 1962, were a point of contention between Stern’s widow and two women who were once Stern’s assistants. Stern’s widow, who is the acting trustee of his trust, filed a lawsuit against the two, who are twins, claiming they were illegally reproducing the photos and selling them online.

The women argued that the copyrights to the images actually belonged to Condé Nast, which had published some of the photos in the past. They also claimed that Stern had given them permission to reproduce, modify and sell the famous prints. However, the judge found that Stern’s trust held all copyrights to the photos. The question of whether the twins committed copyright infringement will be decided in a trial. Copyright experts say the decision is groundbreaking for future cases involving artistic legacy works, particularly those that don’t have a clear copyright trail. Experts also say that photographers and other creative types may wish to appoint someone to oversee copyright registrations for their estate. This is because fiduciaries don’t always have the expertise necessary to ensure legacy works are properly protected from copyright violations.

Artists may wish to speak to an attorney about their intellectual property rights. An attorney could review the specifics of the case and devise a plan to protect the client’s work from copyright infringement.

Source: Wealth Management, “Landmark Marilyn Monroe Copyright Dispute Decided“, Anna Sulkin, Aug. 3, 2018

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