Ideas Are Sexy Too
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The postmortem right of publicity endures for no more than 50 years after death...
Court ruling on 'tasteless' use of shirtless Albert Einstein
This case demonstrates how our almost-perfect justice system remains flawed. Before you send in hate-mail, know that I hardly believe the US Justice system is perfect. In fact, the system can be horrific. Nevertheless, it is generally better than any other judicial system at the moment, and until this can be disproven, our legal system is deemed "good" by AND until further notice.
The case, however, shows how even in an increasingly litigious United States, where lawsuit frivolity is more common than three-piece suits, accountability for a reasonable example of infringement is eluded by big business. It's morally repugnant enough for a "university" to own and profit from an iconic theorist like Albert Einstein, but for General Motors to wrongfully profit from the University's shameful profit... well, it's become a cascade of greedy, legal debauchery.
Sure, there are more important legal issues to be concerned with, but the concept of selling cars or baby toys by using Albert Einstein's image, Leonardo da Vinci's image, or even Jonas Salk's image is reprehensible. Shame on General Motors, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Sidenote: For the web-search challenged, Jonas Edward Salk (October 28, 1914 ' June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine. He was born in New York City to Jewish parents.
Here is the key excerpt from the courts ruling of case number CV10-03790 AHM (JCx):
THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM v. GENERAL MOTORS LLC
Defendant General Motors LLC ('GM') used an image of Albert Einstein in aNovember 2009 advertisement for its 2010 Terrain vehicle. The ad depicted Einstein's face digitally pasted onto a muscled physique, accompanied by the written message 'Ideas are sexy too.' The ad ran in only one issue of People magazine. Plaintiff Hebrew University of Jerusalem ('HUJ'), which claims to own Einstein's right of publicity as a beneficiary under Einstein's will and thus exclusive control of the exploitation of his name and likeness, brought suit against GM for this unauthorized use of Einstein's image.
On March 16, 2012, the Court issued an order permitting HUJ to proceed to trial to the time of his death and (2) that GM had violated that right. See Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem v. Gen. Motors LLC, 2012 WL 907497, at *12-14 (C.D. Cal. March 16, 2012). GM has asserted that even if HUJ could prove both Einstein's intent with respect to the right of publicity and GM's violation of that right, it should not be entitled to recover damages because too much time elapsed between Einstein's death in 1955 and the filing of this lawsuit in 2010.
Now before the Court is HUJ's motion requesting that the Court find that the duration of the postmortem right of publicity is indefinite under New Jersey common law or, in the alternative, that it lasts for 70 years after death, as is the case with copyrights under the federal Copyright Act. In essence, HUJ seeks a ruling from this California federal court as to what New Jersey's highest court would likely determine to be the postmortem duration of that state's common law right of publicity. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the New Jersey Supreme Court would likely find that the postmortem right of publicity endures for no more than 50 years after death. As to HUJ's cause of action under California's right of publicity statute (Civil Code 3344.1), the Court also rules that the rights encompassed in that statute do not apply to Plaintiff.
Here's the entire, downloadable ruling (pdf).
Addendum by Jessica:
So I'm watching some Baby Einstein videos on YouTube with my boys the other day, and I notice at the end of the credits that it says Albert Einstein and Baby Einstein are trademarks of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This came as something of a surprise to me. Baby Einstein is actually related in some way to Albert Einstein the genius? And both are trademarks of Hebrew U.? How is this possible?
Baby Einstein, for the uninitiated, is a line of multimedia products and toys that explore music, art and poetry for children aged three months to three years of age. I know, it sounds pretentious, but I have to say that some of the products are great and really grow with the kids. Anyway, it was created by a set of young parents in Atlanta, Georgia who then sold most of the company to The Walt Disney Company. They pay significant royalties to the estate of Albert Einstein.
And where does Hebrew University, Israel's largest academic institution, come in? Einstein, who was on the university's first board of governors, bequeathed his estate to the university. They receive royalties from licensing activities associated with his name, and, here's an interesting twist: Corbis Corporation, which is owned by none other than Bill Gates, licenses the commercial use of Einstein's name.
It's a small world. And just think, every time you purchase a Baby Einstein product (but not if you watch the videos on YouTube), you're helping out Hebrew U. I may not donate to my alma mater, but hey, I'm helping, sort of.
Aaron Stipkovich, Publisher: With an education in information, technology, business and related disciplines, Aaron entered business on radio. Beginning as a disc jockey in Southern California, a nationally syndicated talk show host position soon followed. During the transition from regional to national, he launched a national print magazine in several countries, and was distributed by Time Inc. Having a handful of humble business media entities, a decade or so later he has divested himself from most of his companies... (more...)