In early February, a customer entered Ben Farag's photography store in Petah Tikva and asked to have 40 shirts printed with the likeness of Albert Einstein for a party at one of the city's nursery schools. The patron asked Farag if he had a picture of Einstein and also suggested looking for a portrait on Google.
After a suitable portrait of Einstein was found using a store computer, Farag was asked to print one shirt as a sample that could be shown to the nursery school teacher. The customer bargained over the price of the shirt and took a picture with his cell phone camera of Farag holding the shirt to show the teacher. Farag later said he didn't quite understand the purpose of the photo.
Farag followed up with the customer to find out what had become of his plans to print a supply of the shirts, but he said the customer appeared confused and unresponsive.
This week, things became clearer when Farag received a registered letter from lawyers representing The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which owns the intellectual property rights to Einstein's estate, including the use of his name and likeness.
"Recently our client was astounded to discover that at your store - you are printing shirts and other products with the late Prof. Albert Einstein's image," the letter said. "The use that you made is public and commercial use which constitutes damage to the brand and blatant damage to the rights of our client under the law," the letter from the firm of Gottfried, Herzog and Eliashiv stated. Farag was asked to pay NIS 20,000 in damages and another NIS 2,000 in legal fees. Attached to the letter was the photo the customer had taken with his cell phone showing Farag holding the shirt with Einstein's image.
Yesterday afternoon, in response to a query from Haaretz, a representative of a firm acting on behalf of the university immediately contacted Farag to apologize. Farag called the incident a ruse and an attempt to cause him to commit a violation of the law and to extort money from him. He alleged that a private investigation firm hired by the university to help oversee the protection of its intellectual property rights had acted improperly in other instances as well.
A university spokeswoman confirmed that an investigation firm had been contracted by the university to prevent the commercial use of Einstein's image. She added that although the firm denied the allegations against it, the university had received a number of similar complaints about its conduct and has decided not to take any action against Farag. The university also said it does not endorse attempts to entice merchants to violate intellectual property rights and would not tolerate such conduct.
Farag sounded encouraged yesterday. "If I managed to send a message to other business owners over similar acts, I'm satisfied," he commented.
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