The children of a photographer who took famous pictures of Marilyn Monroe did not violate the star’s rights by selling pictures without her heirs’ consent, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said in a decision dated Wednesday and made public Friday that a company led by three children of the late photographer, Sam Shaw, did not violate the rights of Monroe’s estate by using pictures of her on T-shirts marketed and sold in Indiana.
Millions of dollars were believed to be at stake, in part because Shaw’s photographs include some of the most famous pictures of Monroe, including ones of her standing over a subway grate, her skirt blowing upward, for the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch.”
The Shaw Family Archives Ltd. had asked the court to rule that a 1994 law did not create post-mortem publicity rights for Marilyn Monroe LLC. The latter company is led by Anna Strasberg, the wife of Monroe’s producer, Lee Strasberg, who received the bulk of the star’s estate. He died in 1982.
The Archives’ case hinged in part on a 1994 Indiana law that established a right to publicity extending for 100 years after the subject’s death. The case was first litigated in Indiana before being transferred to Manhattan.
Monroe died Aug. 5, 1962. Her will did not bequeath a right of publicity.
Orin Snyder, a lawyer for Marilyn Monroe LLC, said the company was considering an appeal. A lawyer for the Shaw heirs did not immediately return a phone call.
At issue in the case was the sale of a T-shirt at a Target store in Indianapolis last Sept. 6 bearing a picture of Monroe and the inscription “Shaw Family Archives” on the inside label and tag.
The dispute also centered on the maintenance of a Web site by the Shaw Family Archives through which customers could buy licenses for the use of Monroe’s picture, image and likeness for various commercial products.