If a company wants to produce original illustrations of historical figures in science (Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, etc.) and put them on t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise for sale, how can they be sure they are not infringing on anyone's rights?
If the scientists are living, is there an introductory way to initiate a conversation of rights rather than just sending a standard royalty contract their way, which can be overwhelming and off-putting?
Any other considerations?
Background--the company wants to promote the image of women in STEM and donate to women in STEM organizations, so this is not purely about profit, but about building a positive campaign for women.
1 Answer from Attorneys
You could be violating their right of privacy and publicity, which are state governed laws that vary. These kick in when one uses the name, image or likeness of another (especially a famous person) to help sell or promote a good or service. Many states even extend these rights to deceased persons ranging from 10-100 years after they pass. The fact that you are a non-profit really does not matter in this context.
If you need more clarification, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
If you would like to discuss further over a free phone consult, feel free to contact me anytime that is convenient.
Our firm is now referred by the American Bar Association (see under the New York section): http://www.americanbar.org/groups/delivery_legal_services/resources/programs_to_help_those_with_moderate_income.html
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