General Motors Off the Hook in Albert Einstein Right of Publicity Lawsuit

General Motors has successfully defended a right of publicity lawsuit over its use of the image of Albert Einstein in a 2009 advertisement. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which controls Einstein’s rights of publicity, had alleged that GM was not authorized to use his likeness. It sued General Motors for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and violation of California’s right of publicity statute.

The advertisement for the GMC Terrain SUV featured Einstein’s face on top of a muscular man with an “e=mc ” tattoo. The tagline below the image stated, “Ideas are sexy too.” It appeared once in People magazine.

While U.S. District Court Judge Judge A. Howard Matz agreed that the ad was likely in poor taste, he ultimately concluded that it was not illegal.

With regard to the duration of rights to publicity, which can vary under state law, Judge Matz concluded that publicity rights should have an expiration date. “A maximum duration of 50 years appropriately reflects the balance between meaningful enforcement of the right of publicity after a famous individual’s death and the public’s interest in free expression,” he ruled. Under this analysis, Hebrew University’s right to sue terminated in 2005.

As Matz further explained, Einstein is “the symbol and embodiment of genius. His persona has become thoroughly ingrained in our cultural heritage. Now, nearly 60 years after his death, that persona should be freely available to those who seek to appropriate it as part of their own expression, even in tasteless ads.”

How Can I Help?

A trademark can be a valuable asset and it needs protection.  If you need help to your protect brand, file a trademark application, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation at nvantreeck@usip.com or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

3 thoughts on “General Motors Off the Hook in Albert Einstein Right of Publicity Lawsuit

  1. I’m curious to find out what blog platform you have been using? I’m experiencing some small security issues with my latest website and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Excellent site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Kudos!|

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.