Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 31, 2012

9th Circuit: Marilyn Monroe's Estate Forfeits Publicity Rights Due to Tax Planning

Milton H. Greene Archives, Inc. v. Marilyn Monroe LLC, No. 08-56471 (9th Cir. Aug. 30, 2012):

An enduring American celebrity, Marilyn Monroe continues to inspire both admiration and litigation a half-century after her death. At issue is whether appellants inherited a right of publicity, which was created and deemed posthumous by the states of California and Indiana decades after her death, through a residual clause in her Last Will and Testament. The will was subject to probate in the state of New York, which does not recognize a posthumous right of publicity. The issue of appellants’ rights turns on whether Monroe was domiciled in California or New York at the time of her death. We conclude that because Monroe’s executors consistently represented during the probate proceedings and elsewhere that she was domiciled in New York at her death to avoid payment of California estate taxes, among other things, appellants are judicially estopped from asserting California’s posthumous right of publicity. We therefore affirm the district court’s order so holding. ...

Because Monroe died domiciled in New York, New York law applies to the question of whether Monroe LLC has the right to enforce Monroe’s posthumous right of publicity. Because no such right exists under New York law, Monroe LLC did not inherit it through the residual clause of Monroe’s will, and cannot enforce it against Milton Greene or others similarly situated. We observe that the lengthy dispute over the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe’s persona has ended in exactly the way that Monroe herself predicted more that fifty years ago: “I knew I belonged to the Public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.” 

(Hat Tip: Bob Kamman.)

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