Court frees Monroe’s image for the world

A United States federal court has ruled that Monroe's estate was wrong to pursue photo libraries and other organisations that use her image without permission or payment. It all stems from a decision made almost a half-century ago by the star's legal representatives in the wake of her death in 1962.

Faced with a huge tax bill from the Californian authorities if they registered her final abode in the state, they chose to list the actor's official domicile as New York, where Monroe had a second home, because the state did not charge estate taxes.

Unfortunately, a move that saved Monroe's heirs millions of dollars at the time could now end up costing them far more. New York does not share California's generous laws regarding control of dead celebrities' images and last week's hearing ruled in favour of those who believe the actor's estate has, for decades, been wrongly extracting a fee each time Monroe's image is used.

Several courts, noting that Monroe's official final abode was New York, opted to abide by that state's statutes and threw out the cases. The legal battle continued  until last week's decision by the federal ninth circuit court of appeals.

 In her ruling, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote: "Monroe's representatives took one position on [her] domicile at death for 40 years and then changed [it] when it was to their great financial advantage … Monroe is often quoted as saying: 'If you're going to be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty.'"

The court pointed out that the dispute over the exploitation of Monroe's image had ended in exactly the way that she had predicted more than 50 years ago: "I knew I belonged to the public … not because I was ­talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to ­anything or anyone else." – © ­Guardian News & Media 2012

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