Marilyn stars in fight over image rights

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Normally, when you buy a postcard of Marilyn Monroe, the royalties go to the photographer. But if Anna Strasberg, widow of the acting guru Lee Strasberg, has her way, in future you will be paying her instead.

A furious battle has erupted across the US over the licensing rights to dead celebrities as a result of Ms Strasberg's determination to retain control over Marilyn's image. Supporters of her cause say she wants to ensure Monroe's likeness is not exploited. Detractors accuse her of trying to change laws for her own financial advantage.

The controversy turns on the question of who retains publicity rights after a celebrity's death. In California, up to now the rights have been inherited by the beneficiaries of the estate, reverting to the public domain when there are no beneficiaries left. In New York, rights lapse on a celebrity's death. Ms Strasberg is trying to have the law changed in both states. Already she has persuaded a California state legislator to amend a stem cell research bill to address the unrelated question of royalties for photographs of deceased actors. If the bill passes, it is likely to spark heavy litigation and an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Monroe left most of her possessions to Lee Strasberg, who didn't meet his future wife until the late 1960s. Ms Strasberg got into the licensing business after her husband's death in 1982, making millions ever since.