Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Law of Unexpected Consequences

Well it's tax day, and so it seems appropriate to share a tax related Schadenfreude story courtesty of The Real Estate Journal.

It begins with a clever team of lawyers (I assume it was a team, the original article doesn't say) representing Marilyn Monroe, LLC, who decided they could save Marilyn Monroe's estate a lot of money by convincing California tax authorities that the movie star had been a resident of New York. As a New Yorker, she would not have to pay taxes on the estate in California.

That saved them a couple of bob. There's just one thing: California allows "rights of publicity" after death. That means that even if a person is dead, you still need to license her image on posters, photographic prints, T-shirts, mugs, socks, whimsical clocks... And those rights of publicity have been netting Marilyn Monroe LLC more than $30 million. New York, on the other hand, says the dearly departed have no "rights of publicity."

A court has now ruled that if Monroe was a New Yorker, as her legal team successfully proved, there's no longer a right of publicity for Marilyn Monroe, and photographers who own Monroe photographs shouldn't have to pay her estate. Photographers who have been paying fees since the starlet died are looking for refunds. But hey, they were pretty clever about that estate tax, weren't they?