Einstein’s "extremely aggressive and litigious" estate makes $12.5m a year in image licensing fees

Originally published at: Einstein's "extremely aggressive and litigious" estate makes $12.5m a year in image licensing fees | Boing Boing

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How did the HU gain ownership of, apparently, all-things-Einstein? What about his descendants?

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Gravy train!

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Tell me you haven’t read the article without telling me you haven’t read the article.

Albert Einstein died in 1955. In article 13 of his last will and testament, he pledged that his “manuscripts, copyrights, publication rights, royalties … and all other literary property” would, upon the deaths of his secretary, Helen Dukas, and stepdaughter, Margot Einstein, pass to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an institution that Einstein cofounded in 1918. Einstein made no mention in his will about the use of his name or likeness on books, products or advertisements. Today, these are known as publicity rights, but at the time Einstein was writing his will, no such legal concept existed. When the Hebrew University took control of Einstein’s estate in 1982, however, publicity rights had become a fierce legal battleground, worth millions of dollars each year.

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So, tell that you’ve been waiting a long time to use that line without telling me that you’ve been waiting a long time to use that line.

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giphy

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a sweatshirt with the slogan “E=mc2: Shit Happens”, he successfully had the sweatshirt banned

Wait, they own the copyright to physics?

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Think again, genius.

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Many people don’t know that fried plantains are called la lengua de einstein.
Many people don’t know that fried plantains are called la lengua de einstein.

Only if Nikola Tesla had an estate…

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There’s more than one Yahoo!

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Einstein’s “extremely aggressive and litigious” estate makes $12.5m a year in image licensing fees

Alternate headline: “Lawbreakers infringe on Einstein’s name and likeness to the tune of at least tens of millions of dollars a year, of which his heirs recoup a mere $12.5m”

Uggh. Is this Total Recall Einstein? I’m not buying that T-Shirt.

In three years, however, I am looking forward to a lot of Einstein stuff in California.

The Guardian article is a long read but essential for anyone wanting to understand the insane mess that “image and likeness” law has made of things. The Einstein case is complicated by the determination that Einstein’s likeness “belongs” to the Hebrew University, a respected institution with an understandable desire to prevent anti-Semitic misuse of Einstein’s image. A colleague of Roger Richman, the lawyer who basically invented the right to control the use of images of dead celebrities, said, “It wasn’t purely about profit for him, but in the end, it was a business." That Richman cultivated a roster of descendants of dead public figures and helped them cash in on this newly-coined right argues against the suggestion that his was a principled mission.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that the world is better off without anti-Semitic Einstein posters and Einstein dildos. But “good taste,” the metric often cited when an “owner” refuses permission to exploit a likeness, obscures the fact that this is really about commodifying dead people. The Guardian article points out the commercial appeal of deceased celebrities: they can’t hatch new scandals, they never show up late, and they can’t demand more money. This discussion isn’t about whether dead celebrities may be exploited, but about who gets to say how they’re exploited and above all, who gets a cut of the exploitation.

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