Photographer’s heirs plan legal challenge to Marilyn Monroe bill

The so-called “Marilyn Monroe bill” will face a legal challenge by early next year, according to the attorney for the estate of a photographer who shot many of the iconic images of the late movie star.

SB 771, carried Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, states the celebrities who died before 1985 have the ability to pass their publicity rights on to whichever heirs they named in their will. It was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 10.

There could be other complications, as well. The sponsors of SB 771 were behind a controversial Marilyn Monroe exhibit that many critics claimed contained numerous fraudulent items. Meanwhile, Greene’s attorney said that a drafting error in SB 771 takes away the rights of currently living celebrities to pass on their publicity rights in their wills–a claim that the attorney for Marilyn Monroe LLC calls “bizarre.”

There are constitutional issues with the bill, according to Joshua Greene, son of famed photographer Milton Greene. Greene’s attorney, Surj Soni, said that the legal challenge will likely already be encompassed in their pending litigation against the owners, MMLLC. This is the entity that currently controls Monroe’s image. MMLLC is controlled by Anna Strasberg, the widow of Lee Strasberg, who was Monroe’s acting coach.

If the current legal case isn’t determined to be sufficient to stand as a direct legal challenge to SB 771, Greene said, he and attorney Soni would likely file a new case. If there is an additional legal challenge needed, it would the have to come after the law went into effect on January 1.

“You have to let it become law, then you can challenge it,” Greene said.

Soni and Greene won partial decision in their case, Milton H. Greene Archives v. CMG Worldwide Inc., in Central District Court in Los Angeles in May. CMG is a licensing company used by MMLLC and Strasberg to commercially distribute Monroe’s image. CMG has said they will appeal when the full decision is handed down.

That ruling came days after a similar ruling in U.S. District Court in New York. This case, Shaw Family Archives Ltd. v. CMG Worldwide Inc., was brought by the family of Larry Shaw, another photographer who shot several iconic Monroe photos. Both cases rested on essentially the same premise.

“The court didn’t believe the right applied to some who passed the right by will before 1985,” said Doug Mirell, an attorney representing Marilyn Monroe LLC for the firm Loeb & Loeb. “The court determined how could they pass on something they didn’t know existed.”

Mirell said that Monroe did know her publicity rights existed–because she essentially licensed out her image while alive by endorsing numerous products, such as Lustre-Cr

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