Hebrew University Hired Detective To Get Printing Store To Print Einstein Shirt… Just To Threaten To Sue

from the shakedown dept

This one is a couple months old, but I’m cleaning out some of the archives, and the story is still interesting. In the past, we’ve covered the rise of “publicity” rights, and in particular have mentioned Hebrew University’s somewhat questionable belief that it controls every photo of Albert Einstein. Apparently, the university is so aggressive that it hired a private “detective” who literally went out to a print shop, asked the proprietor to print up a shirt with an Einstein photo on it as a “test,” took a photo of the shirt… and then a few weeks later the shop owner got a legal nastygram demanding thousands of dollars for daring to print a photo of Einstein. The guy went to the press and noted that he felt tricked by the university. Once it became public, Hebrew University backed down, but it just goes to show the ridiculous aggressiveness with which some are trying to enforce these questionable “publicity rights.”

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Companies: hebrew university

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Comments on “Hebrew University Hired Detective To Get Printing Store To Print Einstein Shirt… Just To Threaten To Sue”

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Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, the detective was NOT a pirate, nor was the printer!

The detective was the employee and agent of the rights holder, and acted on the orders of the rights holder to purchase a print run of the image.

If the authorized agent of a copyright owner hires you to make copies of that intellectual property, it’s no different than Universal hiring a disk pressing company to make a few thousand DVDs for them.

No violation of copyright law occurred. But an attempt at criminal fraud and extortion DID occur!

A Guy says:

No one was a “pirate.” Even IF the image is copyrighted, it is almost certainly fair use for individual members of the public to put one on their T-shirt for personal use.(imho)

Even if that’s not the case and the university holds a copyright on the image, the copy was clearly authorized by the university. A PI (agent of the copyright holder) requested the print to be made.

The real questions are “Will the T-shirt shop sue the university for racketeering?” and “How complicit was the lawyer?/Can sanctions apply?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But they’re claiming “publicity rights”, not copyright.

I have to admit I don’t know the law, but if I understand this correctly, they are saying you can’t publish ANY picture of Einstein even if you HAVE the copyright, unless you go through them. You shouldn’t have the right to control things to that extent. And that goes double for dead people.

A Guy says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t agree that publicity rights are legally enforceable, and they certainly shouldn’t be, but the same logic applies. Even if the university believed they had this made up right that doesn’t exist in the United States, the university authorized the T-shirt shop by sending their agent to him.

To me, this seems to be racketeering.

A Guy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I guess I should modify that, some rights do exist, but in the case of this university, it is being applied so broadly that it cannot be constitutional. Preventing commentary in the form of books of the sharing of public domain photographs is ridiculous and an anathema to everything the bill of rights stands for.

A Guy says:

Re: Careful!

/Obligatory Mike Hate

Damn you Mike Mansick!!!

Your blog points out much of the idiocy and logical fallacies that our entrenched interests rely upon to shakedown citizens and lobby (read bribe)politicians for better (read worse) intellectual property laws.

How are we ever going to survive if we cannot shakedown all of our customers and admirers for unconscionable amounts of money?

/end obligatory mike hate

There ftfy

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They are quickly using the copyright troll path?
We’ve seen here on TechDirt, contracts allowing tracking firms to create the infringement so they can then capture IP’s and have them shaken down by law firms.
How is this any different?

Lawsuits are the new way to make money.
Copyright Trolls, Patent Trolls, Publicity Rights Trolls…
Hey but they are helping the economy… we need to build a shit ton more bridges for them to live under.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Counter Suit

For what? Being mean?

Publicity rights have got to go. They are stupid, and the source of much ridiculous law. A reasonably compelling argument could be made that they are unconstitutional – they clearly violate the First Amendment, they serve no compelling state interest, and there is no (even arguably) valid basis for them in the language of the Constitution (copyrights at least have an arguably valid basis). In any event, as a society we should be fighting as hard as possible against the perception that fame is a path to success rather than a result of it.

But, notwithstanding that they are not much help, they are the law of the land. And there is not yet a recognized defense of entrapment for torts. Hebrew University was within its rights, if not exactly classy, in what it did.

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