Marilyn Monroe fans throughout Texas may be interested to learn that the copyright protection of a photographer, Bert Stern, was recently upheld for a number of famous photos of Monroe. One federal district court judge ruled that a trust for the photographer’s heirs rightfully holds the copyrights for 2,571 photos taken by Stern in June 1962. Taken weeks before the star’s death, they are widely esteemed as some of the most iconic celebrity photographs of the period.
The photographer’s trust filed suit against twin sisters who had served as Stern’s assistant before he died. The trustee, Stern’s widow, alleged that the two had violated the photographer’s copyright by selling prints and modified versions of some of the photos on the internet. The sisters claimed that Conde Nast, the publishers of the photos in Vogue magazine, was the real copyright holder for the images and that the trust did not have standing. They also filed separately to allege that the widow refused to provide them with a bequest given them by Stern, and they claimed the photographer had given them permission for the online sales while he was alive.
While the question of copyright infringement will move forward to a trial, the judge did affirm that the copyrights rightfully belong to the trust, rather than to Conde Nast. Commentators affirmed that the case is interesting for others involved in creative work like photography, writing, and art, as it could set a precedent for other cases in which the copyright standing between creator and publisher is unclear.
In the current business environment, copyrights, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property can be critical to an individual’s or business’ ability to function and prosper. An intellectual property attorney can work to ensure that all materials are properly registered with the relevant agencies and take action in case of infringement.