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Phillips Nizer Gets Copyright Win on Famed “Last Sitting” Photos of Marilyn Monroe by Bert Stern

Mr. Stern took the photos in 1962; decision affirms copyright status and protection in victory for his legacy; case offers encouragement to other photographers and artists

In a major victory for the estate of pre-eminent photographer Bert Stern, a Federal District Court Judge in NY has upheld the photographer’s copyright protection for his famed “Last Sitting” photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

Phillips Nizer LLP represents the Bert Stern 2010 Trust in its copyright infringement lawsuit over the photographs, which were taken of Ms. Monroe in June 1962, just weeks before her death.  They have long been recognized as some of the most important celebrity images of the 20th century.

Mr. Stern died in June 2013, and copyrights in the 2,571 Last Sitting images are owned by the Bert Stern 2010 Trust, of which Mr. Stern’s widow is a trustee. The trusts’ action is intended in principal part to address unauthorized actions taken by defendants Lisa and Lynette Lavender of New York City, who were former assistants of the photographer, in the handling of images from the Last Sitting.

Although some aspects of the case will proceed to trial, the judge’s order effectively resolved the most important issue in the case by affirming that all copyrights held by the testamentary trust are valid.

Alan Behr, the partner leading the Phillips Nizer team, said:

“Judge Engelmayer has issued an important decision affirming the copyright status and protection for one of the great bodies of photographic work of the twentieth century: the ‘Last Sitting’ images made by Bert Stern of Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death.

 “The decision affirms that the testamentary trust established by Mr. Stern is the holder of the copyright in those images. That is a victory for the legacy of Bert Stern as one of the greatest of American photographers, and it is important for photographers everywhere whose rights in their own legacy portfolios have either not been fully established or have been called into question,” Behr said.