The Work

May 28, 2010 12:34 PM

Arent Fox On "Sexy" Einstein Suit Against GM

Posted by Zach Lowe

Einsteinjpg1 If people could sue for bad taste, the general public might have a claim against General Motors for its ad campaign featuring Albert Einstein's head plastered atop the torso of a tanned, buff man wearing low-rise jeans and very, very visible white boxer briefs. The ad for a GM sports utility vehicle (pictured at right), which appeared in People Magazine last fall, carried the tag line "Ideas are sexy too...That's why we gave it more ideas per square inch." The sexy "Einstein" also has the equation e=mc2 tattooed on his left shoulder. 

Alas, bad taste is a shaky foundation for a lawsuit. But the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, represented by Arent Fox, claims it has a much sounder legal argument: GM, the school says, infringed on Einstein's IP rights, which the famed scientist left to the university in his will, according to this Chicago Tribune story and the complaint, filed in federal court in California last week. (Download the Einstein Complaint.) The university claims it has licensed the right to use Einstein's name and image to dozens of high-profile companies, but that GM did not seek the university's permission to use Einstein in the advertising campaign for the GMC Terrain. The suit charges GM with violating competition laws and Einstein's right to publicity, which the university says it controls. The suit says the ad campaign is "falsely connecting Dr. Einstein to GMC's product," and that the imagery, with Einstein resembling (in our view) a bizarre version of Marky Mark, "denigrates the image of Dr. Einstein." 

The suit seeks a permanent injunction, punitive damages, and disgorgement of any profits GM might have made from the ad campaign. Anthony Lupo, the lead Arent Fox partner on the matter, did not return a call seeking comment.

Contact Zach Lowe at

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