MM Estate Oppose ‘Virtual Marilyn Live’

Marilyn’s estate has threatened legal action over plans by Digicon Media to stage a concert using holograms of Monroe alongside live entertainers, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Digicon Media holds a copyright on “Virtual Marilyn” and plans to feature the projected blond bombshell singing and interacting alongside live music stars. But months of correspondence obtained by The Hollywood Reporter indicates that the Monroe estate is closely watching Digicon’s activities, and if the show goes on, there could be a big lawsuit.”

A statement from ABG, who represent licensing rights for Marilyn’s estate:

“The Estate is unfamiliar with Digicon Media’s capabilities as a developer and producer of digital and holographic technology, and is unaware of any successful attempt by Digicon to organize any meaningful exploitation of the crudely animated character that it claims to be a representation of Ms. Monroe and which it allegedly created in the mid-1990s.  The Estate and Authentic Brands believe that the technological advancements made since that decade allow talented developers to create superior virtual characters, akin to the virtual Marilyn Monroe character portrayed in Dior’s popular ad campaign for its J’Adore perfume.

The Estate’s cooperation is required if anyone intends to market and exploit Ms. Monroe’s identity and persona through a ‘live’ concert or otherwise, and Digicon has not secured any such cooperation from the Estate to date.'”

 

Digicon Plans ‘Virtual Marilyn’ Gig

Following the controversial recent ‘hologram’ Tupac Shakur show, Digicon Media are planning a similar event featuring Marilyn – but her estate have not yet granted permission, according to the Hollywood Reporter. (Personally, I hope it doesn’t happen – I’m far more interested in the true MM than any cyber approximation.)

“The Hollywood Reporter has learned that a ‘live’ Marilyn Monroe concert is being planned to take place before year’s end with the working title Virtual Marilyn Live — A Musical Celebration of the Birth of the Pop Icon. The concert, which has yet to secure a venue (organizers also plan to stream it on the web), will feature the projected blond bombshell singing and interacting alongside live music stars. Becky Altringer, managing director and co-founder of Digicon Media, the company doing the planning, says the event will employ the technology used at Coachella to launch virtual Marilyn’s new career as ‘a performer, spokesperson, cultural pundit and computer avatar.’

The potential new revenue stream from live holograms could boost an already lucrative business for the estates of some of the most iconic dead celebrities. Jackson raked in $170 million in 2011, according to Forbes. Presley took home $55 million. Monroe, despite having died of an apparent drug overdose nearly 50 years ago, didn’t do badly at all with $27 million. ‘I would say there could be an uptick [in revenue],’ says Mark Roesler, head of CMG Worldwide, an Indiana-based agency representing the estates of stars including Andy Kaufman and Natalie Wood. ‘Whether that is 10 or 30 or 40 percent is hard to tell, but it will be an uptick.’

Despite the enthusiasm, however, it’s far from settled what rights are needed to pull off hologram spectacles.

To adapt a performance from an existing video work, all that is typically required is a copyright on the video. But, potentially, more rights are needed for hologram performances: In many states, including California, celebrities also hold valuable ‘rights of publicity,’ which allow them to protect their images, voices and likenesses from exploitation without consent.

Has a movie star who signed a broad contract given up rights to stop a hologram? Actors and musicians usually allow studios and record labels to use their images to promote a film or album forever. Reality TV stars hand over to producers pretty much all of their rights for a chance to become famous. Some lawyers therefore believe that most existing contracts give studios the rights to create holograms if the technology merely modifies a work covered by a contract. And there are exceptions to publicity rights. They often don’t cover celebrities (like Monroe) who didn’t live in a state with such protections at the time of their death. The law also allows ‘fair use’ for new works that are ‘transformative,’ meaning they use a small amount of a celebrity’s image as part of a larger spectacle.

The coming Monroe concert could signal the type of legal fights to come.

Digicon, which says it has been developing avatars and ‘synthespians’ since 1995, is not working with the Monroe estate, as Coachella producers did with Shakur’s family. The company owns certain copyrights pertaining to Monroe, including a recent grant on her computer-generated persona, and Altringer says that might be enough. ‘We will probably end up cooperating with them, but only when they come to us,’ she explains. ‘We aren’t in a rush to deal with them because they [own] only marketing rights to old photos for merchandise. We will have our own rights for the living virtual Marilyn, who is the pop icon today.’

A rep for Monroe’s estate couldn’t be reached for comment, but it has brought several lawsuits against those who have used her image without permission. Jonathan Faber, chief executive of Luminary Group, has managed deceased celebrity estates including those of Ella Fitzgerald, Ruth and, formerly, Monroe. He says he’s unsure how courts would interpret the issue but adds he wouldn’t ‘hesitate to bring a case’ against someone who used one of his client’s images to create a touring hologram.”

Jamie Salter on Marilyn, ABG

ABG boss Jamie Salter poses with a Marilyn impersonator

If, like me, you’re perpetually worried about the direction of Marilyn’s estate, this interview with ABG head Jamie Salter (and accompanying photo) probably won’t offer much consolation…

‘“It’s very sad, but Marilyn died at a very young age,” says Jamie Salter. “She’s gonna be 36 forever.”

Salter won’t disclose what he paid for the Monroe estate. He smiles at some of the estimates he’s seen in news stories. “Some people say I paid $20 million. Some say $50 million.”

What did Salter get? That’s still somewhat up in the air. The original dispute between CMG and the Monroe estate remains unresolved, but Salter moved quickly to neutralize the photographers’ claims. Last June, Authentic announced licensing deals with heirs of three of the four: Greene, Kelley and Bernard. In April, it came to an agreement with Shaw’s heirs. Authentic will give the heirs a percentage of perhaps millions in revenue over the next several years. “Now, when you come to the estate, it’s one-stop shop,” says Salter. “You pay x% to the estate for name and likeness, and y% to the photographer for the image.”

Roesler’s CMG is now lined up against the estate and Authentic in court. In March, CMG filed a lawsuit in New York, arguing that at the time of her death Monroe was a resident of New York, where the estate has no right of publicity after death—the right that CMG’s chairman has done so much to establish. But although CMG represents far more celebrities than Authentic, it doesn’t buy their rights or estates; it just manages them.

Contesting Monroe’s right of publicity makes business sense. “We continue to represent various photographers and copyrights associated with Marilyn, and still work with the many licensees that use those copyrighted images,” says Roesler.

Salter is perplexed and frustrated. His message to Roesler: “You could have bought Marilyn Monroe, but you didn’t write the cheque. You had 20 years. You lost.”’ – The Globe and Mail, Canada

‘Finding Marilyn’ Slated For eOne

Finding Marilyn, a new reality series in which twelve contestants for the title of ‘the new Marilyn Monroe’, may be produced for US TV channel Entertainment One with the co-operation of Monroe’s estate, reports Leslie Kasperowicz for CinemaBlend.

Personally, I’ve had enough of these gimmicks and wish ABG would refocus their efforts onto promoting the real thing. Maybe I’m naive, but I thought Anna Strasberg would have more business acumen than to allow her brand to be cheapened like this.

CMG Sue Over MM Image Rights

CMG Worldwide – who managed licensing rights for Marilyn’s image until 2010 – are at loggerheads with her estate, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“When the Monroe estate terminated its relationship with CMG, the parties allegedly reached a deal whereby CMG would return certain assets, including the Monroe website and Facebook page, for a cash payout.

The following year, CMG sued the estate to enforce the terms of the termination agreement. The case settled.

Neither the termination deal nor the settlement agreement is said to have addressed CMG’s representation of One-West Publishing (regarding the copyright ownership of photos by Andre de Dienes and George Barris.) CMG believes that it is permitted to carry on its work there so as to recoup its expenses to settle the One-West litigation.

This month, CMG got a cease-and-desist letter from the Monroe estate over its licensing and display of Marilyn Monroe products and services.

On Wednesday, in a very odd twist, CMG filed a new lawsuit against the Monroe estate in New York federal court, seeking a ruling that it hasn’t done anything wrong with Monroe’s likeness.”

MM Fan Speaks Out on Fair Use

Photo by Yury Toroptsov, Marilyn and I, 2010

Marijane Gray, who has written several articles about Marilyn, was interviewed by Elisa Jordan for The Examiner recently, and spoke out about ABG and Facebook’s treatment on Monroe’s fans – and in particular, the mass deletion of non-profit tribute pages.

“It would do a lot to restore public opinion of them if they admitted they were wrong about what constitutes a copyright violation and left the non-commercial tribute pages in peace. There are enough people out there selling fake autographs, fake memorabilia, putting Marilyn’s face on cheap junk … go after them, not the people who want to look at photos or have a chat about her.”

Facebook and the Ownership of Marilyn Monroe

Photo by Harry Snowden

In the light of recent events in which ABG – who handle licensing matters for Marilyn’s estate – have had non-profit, fan pages deleted from Facebook – Marijane Gray has investigated the subject in an article for Yahoo! Voices, speaking to fans and legal experts on copyright and fair use.

‘Authentic Brands Group would do well to heed an actual quote from Marilyn: “If I am a star, the people made me a star.” Well, the people still love their star, and love her so much they will rebel against what they see as the commodification of her. Marilyn was viewed as a cash cow in life, never getting the respect she deserved, and it is a great tragedy that 50 years after her death nothing has changed.’

MAC to Launch MM Autumn Line

According to Harper’s Bazaar, MAC cosmetics have teamed up with ABG to create a ‘nostalgic collection, which will be showcased in custom-designed display units…It’s early days for the collection, which won’t launch in stores until October, but you can expect the most opulent red lipsticks, vintage nail lacquers, inky eyeliners and gorgeous pressed powders.’

Networking With Marilyn

In a bizarre sign of our times, Marilyn Monroe – or rather, ABG, the licensing arm of her estate – is now verified on Twitter. She also has a Facebook page.

While I’m strongly in favour of Marilyn’s estate having a public voice, so far I’m not too impressed by the content – too many misattributed quotes, celebrity shout-outs and product plugs. All in good fun, of course, but nonetheless I don’t think this accurately reflects her rich legacy.

I’d like to see fans having more input in these accounts, and a bit more quality control. Ideally, these accounts should be managed by someone who has an in-depth knowledge of Marilyn’s life and career.