Celebrity Estate Lessons — Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

If you’re like me, you remember the moving Super Bowl commercial that allowed Christopher Reeve to walk again. You might also remember the hub-bub surrounding the hologram of Tupac joining Dr. Dre onstage at Coachella in 2012. With the continuing advancements in technology, it’s no longer enough to worry about protecting one’s estate after death, but now we must think about our virtual presence.

Let’s get to today’s subject: Marilyn Monroe. When she died, she set up a trust for her mother and left money for her half-sister and friends. She left 75 % of her intellectual property rights to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, and the remaining 25% to her therapist, Dr. Marianne Kris. When Kris died, her share went to the Anna Freud Centre which assists children with mental health issues. When Strasberg died, his share went to his then-wife Anna Mizrahi. She eventually sold her portion to Authentic Brands Group in 2011.

The estate filed suit against Virtual Marilyn LLC in 2014, a company who was planning on doing a virtual tour of Marilyn. Virtual Marilyn claimed it held copyright registrations that included “audiovisual work and character artwork depicting a computer-generated virtual actress adopting the persona of Marilyn Monroe.”

Prior to this suit, the court ruled that Marilyn was not living in California at the time of her death, but instead was a resident of New York. New York’s laws are quite different than California and doesn’t have post-mortem publicity rights. But can Virtual Marilyn use her likeness without the consent of the estate? They claim they can, as long as there’s a disclaimer listed.

With new technological advances, it’s likely we will be seeing more and more cases like this. While you may never think someone will want to make a hologram out of you, there are always changes in the world that might have a bigger impact on your estate plan than you think. Yet another good reason to have your plan reviewed every few years!