LOS ANGELES, January 14, 2008 – LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire – Loeb & Loeb LLP attorneys secured an order in the Los Angeles Federal District Court granting reconsideration of the previous summary judgment decision that stripped Marilyn Monroe of her posthumous publicity rights. Had the original ruling remained in place, Ms. Monroe’s estate would have been unable to prevent others from commercially exploiting the actress’ name or image on a wide array of tawdry and tasteless products.
Reconsideration was granted in light of recently enacted California legislation (SB 771), authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl and supported by Loeb & Loeb attorneys, which clarified the original intent of the 1985 California law that created an enforceable post-mortem right of publicity for deceased actors, artists and other celebrities. U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow issued her ruling less than one week after SB 771 became effective on January 1, 2008.
Loeb & Loeb partners Laura Wytsma and Doug Mirell were responsible for securing this important result for their client Marilyn Monroe LLC. Mirell and Adam Streisand worked with the California Legislature to help craft and obtain passage of SB 711.
“This is a very significant step for this brand new legislation,” said Loeb & Loeb partner Mirell. “The court ‘s decision ensures that the family of Lee Strasberg — the acting coach and friend who Ms. Monroe entrusted in her will to preserve and protect her rights — will continue to be able to do so.”
In her previous Order, Judge Morrow had expressed reluctance in reaching her conclusion “because some personalities who died before passage” of the original 1985 California legislation “had left their estates to charities” which had “assumed that they controlled the personality’s right of publicity, and it appeared that they would be ‘divested’ of the celebrities’ posthumous rights of publicity as a result of the court’s order.” In addition, Judge Morrow also invited the Legislature to enact clarifying legislation that “that vested the right directly in the residuary beneficiaries of a deceased personality’s estate, or in the successors-in-interest of those residuary beneficiaries,” which is precisely what SB 771 did.
Similar post-mortem publicity rights legislation is expected to be introduced in New York State in the near future. Should such legislation be enacted, Judge Morrow’s opinion observes that there are no “due process concerns” that arise from the fact that such a law might apply retroactively to celebrities who died prior to its enactment since such legislation would not deprive anyone of any vested property rights. The personas of deceased California celebrities had no statutory protection, and thus were in the public domain (where they could be commercially exploited by anyone), prior to 1985. The same holds true today for deceased New York actors, artists, sports figures and others.
As a result of her findings, Judge Morrow concluded that any summary judgment decision disposing of this case would be “premature,” thus reserving for trial the question of Ms. Monroe’s domicile at the time of her death and all other ancillary issues.
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