Marilyn’s Estate Makes Gains in Brand Dispute

Marilyn’s estate has been given the green light to pursue trademark infringement claims against merchandiser A.V.E.L.A. Inc. by the Southern District of New York, as Bloomberg Law reports. This legal battle has been brewing for several years, with A.V.E.L.A recently contending that Marilyn’s brand was ‘too generic’ for copyright protection.

“The court rejected A.V.E.L.A. Inc.’s contention that persona rights of deceased celebrities are limited to family, direct heirs, or ‘the actual estate.’ Although the estate purchased the rights, an ‘unbroken chain of title’ extends from Monroe to the estate, the court said.

The court also shot down A.V.E.L.A.’s defenses based on the First Amendment, fair use and the estate’s alleged failure to take timely action.

But the court declined to award Monroe’s estate summary judgment on trademark infringement or trademark dilution claims since material facts are still in dispute. The court also denied judgment on unfair competition despite ‘bad-faith behavior of the A.V.E.L.A. is clear’ since doing otherwise required an infringement finding.

Both sides submitted surveys reaching opposing conclusions on consumer confusion. A.V.E.L.A. moved to toss the estate’s report, but the court said its methodology objections ‘are better addressed through cross-examination’ before a jury.”

Marilyn Calendars for 2019

With the festive season fast approaching, here’s a selection of the best Marilyn calendars (and diaries) for 2019. First of all, here’s a bumper edition of high-quality images from Hugo et Compagnie

TeNeues are offering a calendar and diary this year…

Another calendar and diary, from Italy:

This US calendar is officially licensed and approved by Marilyn’s estate.

Marilyn is also featured (with Arthur Miller) in this German literary calendar from Anfang & Aufbruch

 

ABG’s Jamie Salter On Marketing Marilyn

Jamie Salter, CEO of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), has talked about how Marilyn helped to build his business empire, in an interview with Forbes magazine.

“For Marilyn Monroe, Salter purchased 80% of the Monroe estate in 2012 for a reported $20 million to $30 million before slashing its 300 licensing deals—from T-shirts to refrigerator magnets—down to 80. Then he built the business back up, purchasing the other 20% of the estate and increasing the number of licenses to the sweet spot of 100, focusing on venerable brands that Monroe actually used in life—like Chanel No. 5.

‘You can sell X amount of Marilyn Monroe fragrance at a mass-market retailer, or you can do a deal with Chanel No. 5,’ Salter says. ‘A No. 5 deal doesn’t pay as well, but I think that’s important for the brand because it gives a halo effect. And the truth of the matter is, she wore Chanel No. 5.’

He [initially] went after the Marilyn Monroe business and received a no. But eventually Anna Strasberg, the widow of Monroe’s acting coach Lee Strasberg (to whom she’d left her estate), came back and agreed to a deal to sell 80%. (And three years after Salter bought into Monroe, Strasberg sold him the rest of the business.)

Monroe’s business became so successful in the years following Salter’s arrival that he ended up paying the same amount for the last 20% than he had for the first 80%. He wouldn’t reveal precise numbers, but industry insiders were nevertheless impressed.”

ABG Nets Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds’ for $50K

The licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, Authentic Brands Group (ABG) has purchased rights to ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ – her signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – for $50,000, as Martin Rapaport writes for Diamonds.net.

“ABG Intermediate Holdings, which trades as Authentic Brands Group (ABG), acquired the intellectual property related to the actress and singer’s famous song title for $50,000 last month, according to a court filing. The purchase covers several trademarks registered in the US, Canada, the European Union and with the World Intellectual Property Organization, as well as relevant internet domain names — including diamondsareagirlsbestfriend.com — and a video-game registration.

A. Jaffe and Firestar Diamond, two of Nirav Modi’s American jewelry brands, were the previous owners. They filed for Chapter 11 in February after the Indian tycoon became the subject of a fraud investigation, with bankruptcy trustee Richard Levin subsequently liquidating the companies’ assets, including jewelry and intellectual property.

‘There were a lot of industry players excited and contemplating what we believe was a six-figure property,’ Donald Palmieri, president of the Gem Certification and Assurance Lab (GCAL) and appraiser to the trustee, told Rapaport News Monday. ‘Many expressed interest, even excitement, but when the sale occurred, only one bidder showed up who had serious interest and an open wallet.’

That bidder, ABG, offered $25,000, but later doubled the amount after Levin declared the property unsold.

‘They…asked what the trustee wanted,’ Palmieri continued. ‘He said $50,000, and [ABG] said $50,000. There were plenty of major players in the room who could have jumped in, but there were no further bids.'”

Marilyn’s Estate Sues Clothing Company

Representatives of Marilyn and Elvis Presley’s estates are suing a clothing company for a total of $353,500 in royalties and penalties, the New York Post reports. Central Mills, under its Freeze Apparel division, manufactured a range of tops featuring Marilyn’s image, such as the sweater shown above. TapouT LLC is a clothing division of Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate. The two companies parted ways in December 2017.

Marilyn’s Estate Sues Chinese Company for $22 Million

Marilyn’s estate is suing a Chinese merchandising company for $22 million over a botched licensing deal, The Blast reports.

“According to court documents obtained by The Blast, the estate says they reached a licensing agreement with Alba Longa Concepts in 2016. The deal called for the production and manufacturing of a ‘line of defined consumer products, including sunglasses, watches, luggage, bags, leather accessories scarves, footwear, apparel, dinnerware, drinkware, barware and flatware, in China.’

The estate says the deal was to run for 10 years and promised them a ‘Guaranteed Minimum Royalties’ payment of $1,000,000 the first year, $1.5 million the second, and $2 million for each year thereafter.

According to the suit, the estate says they had the right to terminate the deal if they breach the contract by not making a scheduled payment within 10 days of being served notice that a payment is overdue.

Here’s where the big money comes in: Marilyn Monroe’s estate says that the deal provides that in the event of any breach by Alba Longa Concepts, all ‘Guaranteed Minimum Royalties’ payments for the length of the contract would become immediately due.

Monroe’s estate says Alba Longa Concepts breached the agreement on December 1, 2016 when they failed to make a payment. The estate says over the next year, they notified Alba Longa Concepts several times about the breach, but nothing was done.

Now the estate is suing, claiming they are owed $18.5 million for the missed royalties payments, plus another $4.48 million they claim they are owed in missed payments related to licensing the trademark.

They are seeking the money they are owed, plus 1% interest per month.”

Marilyn Musical Heads to Las Vegas

Marilyn! The New Musical, produced in association with ABG – the licensing wing of Marilyn’s estate – is coming to Las Vegas, NBC reports. A version of this show was first staged in Glendale, California back in 2016, but I understand there have been some personnel changes since then. As diehard fans will know, official approval is not always a guarantee of quality but let’s hope this will be an entertaining tribute.

“One of Hollywood’s most iconic stars is coming to the Las Vegas Strip in Marilyn! The New Musicalan original musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The show will open at Paris Las Vegas with preview performances beginning May 23 and a grand opening June 1, just in time for Marilyn’s birthday. Written, directed and produced by Tegan Summer, CEO of Prospect House Entertainment, in partnership with Authentic Brands Group, owner of the Estate of Marilyn Monroe, the new musical will feature acclaimed Broadway actress Ruby Lewis as the resident Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn! The New Musical features 20 original musical numbers as well as classics like ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy,’ telling the story of one of the world’s most famous women, from her days as Norma Jeane overcoming a difficult childhood, to her meteoric rise to stardom and becoming one of the biggest and most enduring sex symbols of all time.

The Marilyn! cast includes the best talent that Broadway, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have to offer including: Brittney Bertier as Norma JeaneFrank Lawson as Charlie, Marilyn’s trusted driver, Travis Cloer as Milton GreeneChris Fore as Bill PurselRandal Keith as Darryl F. Zanuck, Christopher Showerman as Joe DiMaggioMatthew Tyler as Arthur MillerLindsay Roginski as Jane RussellUna Eggerts as Jayne Mansfield, and Chanel Edwards-Frederick as Ella FitzgeraldKelley Jakle will serve as the swing for Marilyn Monroe. In addition, the show anticipates a rotating cast of celebrity guest performers in the lead and supporting roles.'”

Facing the Future With Marilyn

Marilyn in ‘Niagara’ (1953)

Any longtime  Marilyn fan will know the challenges we face in preserving her true legacy, and two recent news stories suggest our troubles are only beginning. Toby Walsh, a professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI), believes that by 2050 – a century after she first found fame – Marilyn will be ‘starring in movies via an avatar program that talks and acts like her, with machines having learned her speech and mannerisms from her films,’ reports The Australian.

Even more alarming is an article in The Sun about the burgeoning popularity of sex robots. ‘Marilyn comes up quite often,’ says engineer Douglas Hines, of the public requests for celebrity lookalike dolls. ‘The caveat is we need the approval of the person or family. If you wanted a robot that looked like Marilyn Monroe, you would have to have her estate approve it.’ (The idea of a ‘Marilyn Monroebot‘ was first mooted – albeit in jest – on a 2001 episode of the animated series, Futurama.)

Fortunately, Marilyn’s estate has not granted permission for a robot MM, and hopefully they never will. But how long will it take until ‘bootleg’ sex dolls hit the market? And meanwhile, CGI ‘hologram‘ Marilyns have already been seen in TV ads, with her estate planning digitalised ‘live’ shows starring Marilyn and other dead icons. They can replicate her body, but not her soul, and Monroe fans of the future will have to be ever more vigilant against degrading misrepresentations.

Legally Blonde: ‘Is Marilyn Too Generic?’

Marilyn by John Florea, 1953

The ongoing legal battle between Marilyn’s estate and nostalgia brand AVELA (previously reported here) has raised an interesting paradox. As Eriq Gardner writes for the Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla rejected the claim that Marilyn’s estate had ‘monopolised’ her image, but allowed the possibility that MM is ‘too generic’ for copyright protection.

“Upon the argument that ‘Marilyn Monroe’ only reminded consumers of a famous historical figure, the Estate argued that such a proposition was tantamount to a per se ‘rule that names of identifiable individuals are…non-distinctive, contrary to existing law.’

Failla, though, responded that the question of whether a mark has become genericized is a factual one, meaning that it’s inappropriate for an early decision. Both sides will have an opportunity to test the facts — perhaps by taking surveys of whether consumers really associate ‘Marilyn Monroe’ with the Estate.

The judge again stresses the early posture of the case (despite the fact that the complicated case is in its third year), and the Marilyn Monroe Estate at least defeats a claim that it committed fraud upon the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, but she’s at least allowing defendants to attack the notion that the Estate enjoys broad trademark rights to ‘Marilyn Monroe.'”