Another group of downtrodden in danger of losing its rights:
Just because a celebrity is dead, doesn’t mean she can’t try and earn a living. Take, for example, Marilyn Monroe. Since the blonde bombshell’s estate teamed up with the talent giant CMG Worldwide, Inc. (“CMG”) in 1996, the licensing of Marilyn Monroe’s name and image has pulled in over $30 million in revenues. Forbes Magazine routinely ranks Monroe as one of the top grossing dead celebrities; in fact, she earned a cool $8 million just last year alone. Not bad for someone who has been dead almost 45 years. Thanks to CMG’s efforts, Monroe’s name, voice and likeness are used to sell a vast array of products, including refillable lighters, vodka, cars, wine, leather furniture and jeans.
But May 2007 was not a good month for Monroe. Courts in both New York and California dealt her estate a crippling blow, ruling that Monroe’s rights of publicity died when she did and, therefore, her estate did not own (and could not license through CMG), Monroe’s name, voice, image and/or likeness. In addition to potentially devastating the estate’s and CMG’s future revenue stream from Monroe-related goods and advertising fees, the rulings may have wide implications for the rights of other deceased celebrities and New York’s right of publicity law may be drastically amended as a result.
The “rights of dead celebrities” — there’s a concept for you. The dead cannot be libeled, but they can still earn a good living. Marilyn earned $8 million just last year. To earn that much would take me — well, I’ll have to wait until my next raise to make the calculation. Indiana, in case you didn’t know, is in the thick of all this:
Not surprisingly, Indiana is the home of CMG, which controls the publicity rights of numerous other celebrities, both alive and dead, such as James Dean, Ingrid Bergman and Babe Ruth, and has one of the most sweeping right of publicity statutes in the nation. Most notably, Indiana provides for a right of publicity that survives 100 years after a person’s death and applies to any act or event that occurs within the State of Indiana, regardless of where the person seeking to invoke Indiana’s law resides or is domiciled.
I hear our law may be amended, though. Marilyn will lose her benefits because she smoked and James Dean because he didn’t wear a seat belt.