Marilyn Merchandise Lawsuit Proceeds

Marilyn Monroe wears the pearl necklace given to her by Joe DiMaggio.
Marilyn in court (1954)

As the legal battle between Marilyn’s estate and merchandiser AVELA continues, the Hollywood Reporter reveals a new development.

“Now, another merchandising company, X One X Movie Archives, associated with AVELA and dragged into this dispute, has asserted its own counterclaims against the Marilyn Monroe Estate. This time, an attempt is being made to go the distance by cancelling trademarks and holding the Marilyn Monroe Estate liable for alleged monopolization and deceptive business practices.

The court filing on Friday (read here) says that when Monroe died in 1962, she bequeathed $25,000 to her personal secretary and divided the rest of her assets between her psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Kris and her acting coach Lee Strasberg. After those two died in the early 1980s, the estate landed in the hands of Strasberg’s widow Anna and Aaron Frosch.

In 2010, after more events happened including legal fights with some prominent photographers, an entity named ABG is said to have purchased Marilyn Monroe LLC, registered trademarks and established themselves as The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC.

X One X regards this all as misleading, reporting that other entities own trademarks and copyright to Marilyn Monroe films and characters while the purported official estate run by James Salter works with Leonard Green & Partners to bully others and perpetuate the idea that it holds exclusive rights to Monroe.

Cancelation of trademark registrations is being sought on the grounds that contested marks (like ‘Marilyn Monroe’) lack distinctiveness, only identify a deceased person rather than the source or origin of any product, and are purely functional in that they are used to describe a famous person in the public domain. The ABG group is also alleged to have made false statements to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to obtain trademark registrations.

The monopolization allegedly happens through a ‘a vertical scheme with its affiliate Leonard Green & Partners’ such that ‘ABG assures licensees that their ABG-licensed Marilyn Monroe-related products will sell exclusively in retailers owned by Leonard Green & Partners,’ precluding lawful competitors.

The counterclaim goes on to say that a judgment in favor of the Marilyn Monroe Estate would perpetuate a monopoly and that it ‘would outlast any period of copyright, would usurp the right of the public (and X One X) to make commercial use of public domain images, and would enable the ABG Parties to unlawfully restrain any use of Marilyn Monroe’s image, likeness or name in commerce.’

AVELA and X One X have a history of precedent-setting legal tangles that have defined the boundaries of intellectual property. Past battles include a skirmish with the Bob Marley estate and another with Warner Bros. This could be an even higher stakes legal fight with the potential of shaking up the Forbes dead celebrity earner list.”