Within the heady world of Hollywood portraiture, the new Monroe books are seen as classic evidence of copyright, photo credit and royalties chronically denied.
Photographers say rip-offs are flagrant, usually deliberate and have been a cruelty of the movie business since two-reelers and James Abbe's first photographs of Charlie Chaplin.
Example: A photographer is assigned to take pictures of a star. The actor usually receives copies with freedom to hand them out. Additional prints may go to agents for the star, the studio and the photographer.
Agents sell or give the photographs to magazines, newspapers, commercial advertisers or stock houses serving the world of publishing.
Prints--and by now, prints of prints--are distributed by movie studio publicists. Free. To Associated Press. To People magazine. And some publications have been known to make their photographs available to other periodicals--where they often are credited to the intermediate agency.
Ownership of the original image, an accurate photo credit and an individual's right to payment are quickly buried in the tangle. And if the issue is not pursued--and legal action is a notoriously unprofitable way to recover a $150 publication fee--photographs fall into public domain.
Joe Jasgur of Palms, who photographed a 19-year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty's first portfolio, says he has found his movie photographs selling as fuzzy, ninth-generation $5 prints in a Hollywood memorabilia shop.
So has Richard Miller, 81, of Malibu, who shot Marilyn Monroe as a bride for a 1946 issue of Personal Romance. He kept the original print, had it on the wall of his home for years, and released it just once--for a 1987 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"It popped up in one of the Hollywood Boulevard stores, so somebody must have photographed it on display at the museum, made copies and began selling them," he says. "Then it popped up in another book, this time credited to some other agency."
Today's copyright laws are tougher, says Miller, but "the problem is still trying to apply them, and retroactively."
Martin Bressler--a New York attorney representing photographer Sam Shaw in his suit against St. Martin's Press for alleged misuse of Monroe pictures--says control of an image is lost early in the process.
A star sitting produces a surfeit of shots in a multitude of poses. Two or three may be selected for distribution. But few discards are destroyed; some are carelessly filed, others are given away and many are scavenged by collectors. This, Bressler believes, builds an underground that "permits anyone to go to a stock house obtain pictures and claim them as their own."
Last month, Bressler met in Los Angeles with half a dozen veteran Hollywood photographers, including Jasgur, Miller, Shaw and George Barris. Their discussion centered on the formation of an organization to police their photographic rights, as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers protects other artists.
More meetings are planned.