Court: Marilyn Monroe Was a New Yorker

Ruling could ease commerce in images of Marilyn, worth millions.

ByScott Michels

April 1, 2008— -- A recent federal court ruling could mean that sellers of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia will be able to use the star's images without paying fees to her estate.

District Court Judge Margaret Morrow ruled earlier this month that Monroe was a resident of New York when she died in 1962. Monroe's estate had argued that she died a resident of California.

Because of a difference between laws in the two states, the distinction could be worth millions of dollars.

The families of photographers who took pictures of Monroe sued her estate in 2005, arguing that the estate had no legal right of publicity, which allows celebrities to charge a fee to use their images.

In New York, the right of publicity ends when the celebrity dies. It continues beyond the death in California. If upheld on appeal, the decision that Monroe died a New Yorker, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would mean that the photographers' families would not have to pay licensing fees to Monroe's estate when they sell her images.

"They've been restricting the kinds of products and uses based upon what they like and what they don't like," said Surjit Soni, a lawyer for the photographers' families. "Those restrictions are now gone. We're likely to see a whole host of new products with wonderful images of Marilyn at much higher quality at much lower prices."

Marilyn Monroe LLC said in a statement that it planned to appeal the ruling. An estate spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

In her ruling, Judge Morrow cited sworn statements from one of Monroe's friends who said Monroe owned a house in California because "she disliked living in hotels and preferred both the comfort and privacy of a private home."

Monroe's former housekeeper, personal assistant and other friends also said that Monroe told them that she considered her New York apartment to be her "permanent residence," according to the court opinion. Two days before her death, she told her housekeeper that she was going to California for about a month, then planned to return to New York.

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