CHRNONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
TWEED BLOG May 28, 2010
The General Motors Company probably thought it was being clever, using the iconic image of Albert Einstein’s head — Photoshopped onto a half-naked, buff, tattooed torso — to advertise the carmaker’s new SUV alongside the slogan “Ideas are sexy too … That’s why we gave it more ideas per square inch.”
But the four-page ads that ran last fall in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man” issue got a failing grade from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which owns the rights to Einstein’s likeness and his personal archive, including the manuscript of the Special Theory of Relativity.
Now the Detroit automaker is being sued for $75,000 by the university for breach of copyright, the Detroit Free Press reports.
“The tattooed, shirtless image of Dr. Einstein with his underpants on display is not consummate with and causes injury to” the Hebrew University’s “carefully guarded rights in the image and likeness of the famous scientist, political activist and humanitarian,” says the lawsuit filed on May 19 by lawyers acting for the university.
Einstein was one of the founders of the university, the oldest in Israel, and a member of its first board of governors. When he died in 1955, he bequeathed Hebrew the rights to his image and his papers.
“As a result of the fame and celebrity of Dr. Einstein, there is a substantial licensing program,” says the university.
More than half a century after his death, he is still earning a tidy sum for Hebrew. According to Forbes, Einstein was the fourth-highest-earning dead celebrity in the world in 2008, with an annual income of $18-million.
A GM Spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press the company had negotiated the image rights with a “reputable”agency.
But a Hebrew University spokeswoman, Orit Sulitzeanu, told Tweed that GM had not done its homework.
“General Motors indeed purchased the image of Einstein, but every company who wants to use the image for business purposes must get our approval,” she said. “We have a committee in the university who sits and judges whenever there are these kind of requests and decides if it’s appropriate or not. General Motors didn’t ask for approval, and if they had it would not have been deemed appropriate because it does not represent Albert Einstein in a dignified way.”
Ms. Sulitzeanu declined to specify which aspect of the ad was undignified: the bulging muscles and six-pack; the model’s freshly-laundered undershorts; or the “e=mc2 tattoo on his left biceps. —Matthew Kalman, Jerusalem