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GM sued for alleged unauthorized use of Einstein's image

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GM sued for alleged unauthorized use of Einstein's image

Robert Snell / The Detroit News

A Jewish university that owns Albert Einstein's publicity rights is suing General Motors Co. for the unauthorized use of the dead physicist's image in an ad for its GMC Terrain.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem sued GM in U.S. District Court in California on May 19 for more than $75,000, accusing the automaker of fraudulently using Einstein's image. Einstein willed his publicity rights to the university before he died in 1955.

It is the latest advertising gaffe facing GM, which has struggled to perfect its marketing pitch since emerging last summer from bankruptcy court. Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre has been accused of stretching the truth in a recent commercial saying the automaker had repaid its federal loans, and its marketing team has undergone a management and creative agency shakeup in recent weeks. This month, GM has hired a new marketing guru and a new ad agency for its largest brand, Chevrolet.

"It may be GM thought, 'Oh, he died and the rights are all public domain now,' " said John T. Brooks, a partner with Chicago law firm Foley & Lardner LLP who specializes in estates and trusts. "It's old and cold and nobody's got rights to it."

A GM spokeswoman today said the automaker is reviewing the case.

The lawsuit illustrates the lengths to which celebrity estates will go to defend lucrative profits. Einstein's estate grossed $10 million last year, making the late physicist one of the top earning dead celebrities.

Einstein, whose name and image has been licensed for use in McDonald's Happy Meals and the popular Baby Einstein products, ranked ninth between authors Dr. Seuss ($15 million) and Michael Crichton ($9 million), according to Forbes.com.

The four-page ad in question ran in People magazine last fall and featured the dead physicist's head superimposed on a half-nude underwear model with an "E=MC2" tattoo.

The Terrain crossover sport-utility vehicle is one of several new products fueling a rebound in sales of GM's Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands, which rose 19.7 percent last month compared to a year earlier. GM also posted an $865 million first-quarter profit -- its first in almost three years.

"I suppose you could make a business decision that you can make so much money that you can withstand a lawsuit that would tell them to stop and fine them something," Brooks said. "It wouldn't be the first time a corporation has done something thinking they might pay the price for it, but it's worth it."

The Einstein case isn't the first time GM has been sued by a celebrity for using their likeness in ads. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sued General Motors Corp. for $2 million in 2005 for using his likeness in an ad after his contract with the automaker had expired.

rsnell@detnews.com (313) 222-2028

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100526/AUTO01/5260437/1148/auto01/GM-sued-for-alleged-unauthorized-use-of-Einstein-s-image#ixzz0p4FbYaVC

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem sued GM in U.S. District Court in California on May 19 for more than $75,000, accusing the automaker of fraudulently using Einstein's image.

Wow! It's a tiny suit that GM will likely just settle... but even if you took a picture of Einstein yourself, you're not allowed to publish it?

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Wow! It's a tiny suit that GM will likely just settle... but even if you took a picture of Einstein yourself, you're not allowed to publish it?

Always interesting legal questions, IMO- sometimes it's intriquing to pit common sense against law in these instances.

I would think you could publish a pic you took yourself as just that, but to tie it in with a product might be another matter... tho how the 'endorsement' of a dead guy could possibly mean anything to anyone..... :wacko:

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Unauthorized use of Einstein's image....Hmm? That was real smart!

You would think someone at GM would under stand all the legal right since they have made it that to use any of their names or images you have to sign your life away.

Just about every celebrity image is lock up anymore it is hard to find one on the open market.

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It's all Relative: GM Sued for Einstein Ad

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

With all the recent hubbub around General Motors reorganizing its marketing campaigns and strategies, this ad-based lawsuit stands out like a sore thumb.

Way back in September, GMC ran four-page ad in People's "Sexiest Man Alive" issue. Nothing special there. However, a part of the ad used Einstein's face on a model's body, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has the rights to his image (which earned $10 million last year)

Now the university is suing GM for $75,000, claiming Einstein's likeness was fraudulently used in the ad. GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney defends GM by saying the automaker bought the right to use the image from a known firm, and that the ad itself (which only ran in that issue) was created by the Leo Burnett agency.

John T. Brooks, an estate/trust lawyer for Foley & Lardner LLP in Chicago, explains how all this might play out: "It may be GM thought, 'Oh, he died and the rights are all public domain now.' It's old and cold and nobody's got rights to it...I suppose you could make a business decision that you can make so much money that you can withstand a lawsuit that would tell them to stop and fine them something. It wouldn't be the first time a corporation has done something thinking they might pay the price for it, but it's worth it."

Of course it's worth it; all this lawsuit is for General Motors is extra publicity generated by a bought-and-pain-for ad from last September.

link:

http://carscoop.blogspot.com/2010/05/it-all-relative-gm-sued-for-einstein-ad.html

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