In June 1962, celebrated photographer Bert Stern photographed Marilyn Monroe at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles for a collection that became known as the "Last Sitting."
Monroe died two months later at the age of 36 and the images published soon after in Vogue became iconic.
A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that Stern’s heirs are the rightful owners of the copyright interests in the "Last Sitting" photographs.
The issue arose in a lawsuit Stern’s widow, Shannah Laumeister Stern, filed against Lisa and Lynette Lavender, twin sisters who were Stern’s assistant. The lawsuit claimed copyright infringement involving the reproduction and online sale of modified versions of certain Monroe images.
The Lavenders counter-sued, claiming Stern never owned the rights to the photographs.
Instead the sisters said the copyright belonged to Conde Nast, which hired Stern to photograph Monroe for Vogue. The Lavenders also claimed Stern authorized them to make, modify and sell copies of Monroe photographs following his death.
The judge found that Stern was, and his heirs are, the rightful owners of the copyright to the photographs. Whether the Lavender sisters infringed the judge said will have to be decided at trial.