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Albert Einstein’s heir is “outraged” that she doesn’t receive part of Albert Einstein licensing income

February 11, 2011 5 Comments »
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Evelyn Einstein, the 69 year old granddaughter of the famed physicist Albert Einstein, says she is “outraged” that she doesn’t get paid a part of the income derivived from the licensing of Einstein’s name, image and likeness.  That Einstein yields substantial revenues is no secret–he is a perennial entry on Forbes’ annual Top-Earning Deceased Celebrities list–but the legal basis for Evelyn’s claim to entitlement seems to be a mystery.   

I’ve heard it before many times:  “But I’m a blood relative!” goes the rally cry.  Of course, this has little to do with the distribution of assets and rights through a will or trust.  The next declaration is usually “I need the money” or “It’s not fair.”   Perhaps, but most people are familiar with this in the context of estate administration.  The wealthy uncle leaves his assets to a favorite relative and leaves others out for whatever reason (or no reason at all).  The result can be harsh to those who are left without a share, but the law by necessity tolerates and supports such results. 

I had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem and meet with those responsible for administering Einstein’s licensing program.  The distribution of Einstein’s intellectual property rights is clear from his testamentary documents.  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was chosen by Einstein to receive not only his literary rights but also the intellectual property rights to his name, image and likeness. 

Whether or not Einstein could have envisioned the business that stems from licensing of uses such as “Baby Einstein” or Einstein lookalikes in commercials is irrelevant.  Einstein made his choice and entrusted his literary and intellectual property rights to the University, which for its part is doing a diligent job in being selective in what merchandising and advertising of Einstein is allowed. 

Einstein died in 1955.  It has been 56 years since Einstein’s asset distribution took effect.  Evelyn’s claim might be a bit late at this point.

Here’s a link to the story:  http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/02/10/california.einstein.granddaughter/index.html?hpt=T2


5 thoughts on “Albert Einstein’s heir is “outraged” that she doesn’t receive part of Albert Einstein licensing income

  1. paul einstein says:

    Dear Mr. Faber,
    You made this statement:
    “I had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem and meet with those responsible for administering Einstein’s licensing program. The distribution of Einstein’s intellectual property rights is clear from his testamentary documents.”

    What are the documents and the statements therein, that support your view? And how, explicitly do they give the University the rights to use Einstein’s name as a trademark, and to license his image to earn money, to use it for publicity, and to support various products or ideas that weren’t created in his lifetime?

    Could you clarify that? The exact legal contracts you’ve seen?

    Your article is very interesting. Clearly, you are an expert, but it’s not convincing, the argument you have given. It’s too vague.

    Could you be more specific?

    Could you site the laws as well that enable the business? That would be most interesting.

    Thanks,
    Paul Einstein

  2. jfaber says:

    Thanks for visiting the website and for posting your comment. The nature of the meeting I attended in Jerusalem was confidential, though I can say my statement was based on the information that was discussed (as well as decades of course of conduct and administration of those rights). A decedent’s testamentary documents would not need to speak expressly to issues such as licensing. In fact, it is not uncommon for a testamentary document to not specify a right of publicity bequest. In such cases, prevailing trusts and estates doctrine dictates that those rights typically would pass through the residual clause of the document. As for sources of the law that enable the business, the easiest thing I can do is direct you to the statutes and notable cases sections of http://www.rightofpublicity.com.

  3. paul einstein says:

    Dear Mr. Faber,
    Thanks for your response.

    “It is not uncommon for a testamentary document to not specify a right of publicity bequest.”

    Then,

    “In such cases, prevailing trusts and estates doctrine dictates that those rights typically would pass through the residual clause of the document.”

    I think that’s very clear. Obviously, if the doctrine is prevailing and typical and given the residual clause, Einstein bequeathed his literary heirs in perpetuity to use his image and name to promote the products and ideas that they saw as fit to represent him.

    I wonder what Albert Einstein would think about that? But, how could we know his thoughts on this subject? He’s not here to give them.

    Well, I guess we’ll have to turn to the people who inherited the right to license his “opinions” even about new products created in the last few years, not patented by him or invented by him.

    They will know the answer because the prevailing doctrine has given them that legal authority. They can speak for him. He’s dead, rather he’s not available for comment.

    And since they are an organisation with slowly changing personnel, the approach will vary according to the people making the decisions for Albert Einstein.

    It was very wise of Albert Einsten to realize that after his death he would be unable to run a licensing business for toys, infants videos, snowboards, films…Only a man of his deep insight could have realized this simple but elegantly clear truth:

    “When you’re dead, you’re gone.”

    During his lifetime, he answered all of his letters personally. That’s why there are so many.

    Now, he can rest in peace, having finally learned posthumously to delegate his intellectual authority.

    I have been told that that’s one of the reasons he gave his brain up for scientific research. The man was simply tired of using it himself, and decided at last, to let other people have a go at it.

    Yours,
    Paul Einstein

  4. jfaber says:

    It is tempting to contemplate how a person like Albert Einstein, or Diana, Princess of Wales, or Rosa Parks, or Ghandi, or Malcolm X (all of whom have licensing programs in place) or many others, would feel about the business surrounding their names and likenesses. However, the world is rapidly changing, and a lot of good comes from the licensing of notable figures. Such revenue is often directed at advancing the causes to which the notable person dedicated his or her life.

    For example, the permission granted to use Rosa Parks in a pickup truck ad generated a substantial amount of new money that went into the Raymond and Rosa Parks Institute for Self Development, which in turn helps underprivileged children. There was some criticism of the decision to allow the use, but the decision was contemplated carefully by those whom Rosa entrusted. The very same ad campaign also included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though it did not seem like his family received the same level of scrutiny for allowing the use. Not allowing that ad could easily have been considered economic waste, a decision based on an unattainable ideal, and one that deprived children who would benefit from the transaction.

    I have seen instances where the modus operandi was to not commercialize the personality at all, and only focus on stopping such uses by others. This tends to cause demand to be met entirely by infringing goods. It also can lead to a loss of control over how the personality is depicted in advertisements and commercial products, as well as hasten the rate at which the personality becomes forgotten.

    From my vantage point, I can say that those personalities and their representatives that I have had the opportunity to work with take their charge very seriously and exercise considerable discretion in their decision making.

  5. H. Patrice says:

    So glad to see that Einstein’s name and image are now where they belong, in the public domain. Hebrew University’s action against G.M. has got to rank high among the all-time spectacular blunders. H.U. have acted liked thugs, IMO, and I’m sure I’m not alone in rejoicing over their reversal of fortune.

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