Einstein's "extremely aggressive and litigious" estate makes $12.5m a year in image licensing fees

When Albert Einstein died in 1955, there was no such thing as publicity rights. Those came along much later. Today, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which Einstein co-founded in 1918, earns about $12.5 million a year licensing his image. The Guardian has a fascinating article about image licensing and the California Celebrity Rights Act of 1985.

Computer manufacturers were especially eager to associate their products with Einstein. In 1989, Sony reluctantly paid $63,000 to use Einstein's image in an advertisement. In 1997, [celebrity publicity rights attorney Roger] Richman received word that Apple wanted to use Einstein's photograph to advertise its Mac computers alongside the slogan "Think different". After Richman had negotiated what he believed to be a fair fee of $600,000 he received a call from Apple's cofounder, Steve Jobs, demanding a reduction. "I explained that there was only one Albert Einstein," Richman wrote in his memoirs. If the fee was too high, he said, Jobs could license Mae West instead: "She thought different also." Jobs paid up.

Despite Richman's best efforts, some "seriously offensive" products, as he saw them, reached the market. When Richman discovered that a chain of stores owned by Universal City Studios sold a sweatshirt with the slogan "E=mc2: Shit Happens", he successfully had the sweatshirt banned, and forced Universal to pay $25,000 in damages. Richman later took umbrage at Command & Conquer, the video game series launched in 1995 by Electronic Arts, in which players could, in his words, "click a few keys that result in Adolf Hitler killing Albert Einstein". Richman wanted EA to add a sticker to each box warning of antisemitic content. EA counterclaimed that fictional writing about historical characters was a first amendment right that superseded the right of posthumous publicity. The parties settled out of court.