Fishers company loses Marilyn Monroe suit

CMG Worldwide, an intellectual property licensing firm in Fishers, has lost a federal lawsuit relating to the iconic images of the late actress Marilyn Monroe.

On Sept. 2, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan ruled that heirs of New York photographer Sam Shaw own rights to the photos. The judge granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Shaw and dismissed the case, but allowed the photographer’s trust to proceed on some counterclaims.

Shaw Family Archives trust sued CMG and CMG client Marilyn Monroe LLC in April 2005, alleging copyright infringement relating to three Shaw images used on merchandise without permission. The Indiana company argued that it owned Monroe’s right of publicity, and asked the court to decide that the late actress was a California resident when she died in 1962.

Monroe’s home would have determined the right of publicity based on laws in California and New York. An Indiana suit and others were combined with the California suit.

In March, U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow of the Central District of California in Los Angeles determined that CMG and Marilyn Monroe LLC didn’t own rights of publicity in that state because the famous actress didn’t reside in that jurisdiction at the time of her death.

The California case is identical, McMahon wrote. The only difference is that it involves a different photographer.

Monroe licensing fees on everything from TV commercials to T-shirts have raked in more than $30 million in the last dozen years. Roughly 25 percent of the windfall has landed in CMG coffers.

CMG CEO Mark Roesler said he is disappointed by the ruling.

“What this [NY] court is trying to say is that because it says she was domiciled in New York, Marilyn Monroe LLC can’t prevent photographers from using images they took of her,” Roesler said. “This is a narrow decision and we fully expect to appeal.”

Roesler said the New York ruling and the one in California have no bearing on any of its other 250 clients encompassing hundreds of celebrities including James Dean, Elvis Presley and John Wayne.

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