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Amidst the pantheon of pop culture icons, Marilyn Monroe retains a unique allure. And so it is that the first federal case to consider directly the intersection of copyright and trade dress rights arose from a dispute over the use of revealing photographs of a young Monroe on labels of red wine. The case, Nova Wines, Inc. d/b/a/ Marilyn Wines v. Adler Fels Winery LLC, No. C 06-06149 (N.D.Cal Dec. 1, 2006), out of the Northern District of California, was decided on a preliminary injunction motion and involved two commercial wine merchants intent on capitalizing on Monroe’s enduring marketability.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel held that Nova Wines could assert its established trade dress rights in the use of photographs of Monroe on wine labels to prevent the holder of a valid copyright license in certain nude photographs of the actress from using one such image in a similar fashion. In reaching its decision, the court explored the evolving interplay between the copyright, trademark and trade dress regimes.

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