Marilyn Monroe passed away in 1962. Her estate has zealously enforced her trademark and other intellectual property rights against those who would infringe upon it. However, there are other common law rights that might apply, such as the right of publicity, which would likewise bar someone from using her name and likeness. The question that was before the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in August of 2012 was whether that right of publicity could be applied in Marilyn Monroe’s case. Archives v. Monroe, 692 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2012).
The twist in that case was that the Court had to determine whether Monroe was a resident of New York or California at the time that she passed away. If she had been a resident of New York, she would have no right of publicity since that state does not provide for such a right after death. If she were a resident of California at the time she passed away, she would have such a right since California amended its law to provide for Monroe’s estate in particular to be able to avail itself of that protection.
The case was decided based upon the legal concept of “judicial estoppel.” Simply put, that principle states that a party cannot take countervailing positions under certain distinct circumstances, such as those presented in this case. Specifically, the Court determined that Monroe did not have such a right since she was a resident of New York at the time that she was deceased. Although she had moved to California and committed suicide there, the estate had taken the position in previous cases that she was a resident of New York. Therefore under a theory of judicial estoppel, the Court found the estate was not allowed to make a contrary assertion in this later suit just because it was more advantageous.
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