NEW YORK – Once, he was a genius theoretical
physicist who brought the world the theory of
Today, Albert Einstein – with his crazy mane of
white hair, deep-set eyes and occasionally goofy
expressions – is an extremely lucrative brand image,
and one that the
Hebrew University doesn’t want anyone to use
But, in a declaratory relief action filed last month
in federal court in New York,
Long Island-based costume and disguise company
Forum Novelties challenged Hebrew University’s
claims to Einstein’s name, image and likeness.
Forum Novelties’ attorney, Andrew Langsam, of the
New York firm Pryor Cashman, did not return calls
for comment, and Hebrew University refused to
comment on the pending suit.
Forum Novelties, was taken to task by Hebrew
University for selling a “Heroes in Disguise” kit
which included a white curly wig and white moustache
meant to represent Einstein.
The costume company is fighting back with its suit,
claiming that Hebrew University has gone too far in
its pursuit of profit from Einstein’s likeness.
Forum Novelties suit alleges that Hebrew University
could not “inherit” Einstein’s right of publicity
because Einstein didn’t exploit it during his own
The costume seller also makes a First Amendment defense,
claiming its Heroes in Disguise kits are “intended to be
worn by children acting in historically based school
plays and in every day play.”
There is also a trademark component to the case. Albert
Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth and Al Capone, is a US
federally registered trademark. Hebrew University owns
several Albert Einstein federal trademarks, including
clocks, bumper stickers, socks, imitation luggage,
cookie jars, flower pots, toy butterfly nets and
“Where the commercialization of celebrity rights seems
to be forever expanding, the Forum case is a rare,
somewhat risky, preemptive attempt to expand the bounds
of permissible use of a celebrity’s name and likeness,”
New York attorney Lloyd Jassin blogged about the case.
“Exploitative or informational? A First Amendment
protected costume or an advertisement in disguise?
Whatever the court decides, Einstein is clearly a
bankable cultural icon worth fighting over.”
Although Hebrew University did not allow Einstein’s
image to be used to sell vodka or for a Madonna concert,
it did make a deal with the Walt Disney Company to use
the name “Baby Einstein” on a line of infant and toddler
educational toys in 2005.
It was estimated that the university earned $2.6 million
on that deal alone, and $10 million in the past year
overall from licensing deals.