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CMG loses California copyright case over Marilyn Monroe images

Most intellectual property lawsuits that hit the headlines seem to involve technological giants like Apple or Samsung. One recent copyright infringement case stemmed from the use of iconic images of the late, great Marilyn Monroe. CMG Worldwide, the intellectual property rights firm which represented Marilyn Monroe LLC, claimed that it owned the rights to the images in question. According to them, two photography studios who had used those images-one in California and one in Oregon-had violated their copyright over the pictures.

CMG originally filed suit in an Indianapolis U.S. District Court, but the case was later moved to federal court in California and consolidated with a similar case. A federal judge initially ruled that since Marilyn Monroe didn’t live in California at the time of her death, CMG and their client did not own rights over publicity in the state. CMG and their client appealed the case, but the appeals court recently upheld the lower court’s decision.

The appellate court judges quoted the famous actress’s belief that she belonged to the public and the world in their decision. This ruling could result in a substantial income loss for both CMG and Marilyn Monroe LLC. Licensing fees related to the actress typically garnered over $30 million each year before their 2008 lawsuit filing. CMG apparently received approximately one-fourth of that amount annually.

This case shows that, while many intellectual property disputes these days seem to involve technology to some degree, it covers a wide gamut ranging from physical inventions to books and even iconic images of world-famous celebrities. Marilyn Monroe was truly an icon of her times, and her allure continues on to this day. As evidenced by this hard-fought copyright case which wound its way through federal court in California.

Source: Indianapolis Business Journal, “Fishers company loses Marilyn Monroe court appeal,” Aug. 31, 2012

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