Sean Ferrer says that the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund is going too far in using the iconic actress’ name. The son of the Hollywood legend, who helped found the charity upon his mother’s death in 1993 before later resigning as its chairman, filed a lawsuit in California federal court on Thursday.
The lawsuit is in some ways a mirror image of the one filed by the charity in February.
The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund (also known as Hollywood for Children) has already objected to the way that Ferrer “seeks to entirely control, limit and prohibit the Fund from using the Hepburn IP unless it is willing to pay a significant portion of the fundraising proceeds to a charity of Ferrer’s choice, or to simply preclude the Fund from utilizing the Hepburn IP altogether.”
In his own lawsuit, Ferrer says that is both his right and his half-brother, Luca Dotti’s, too.
According to the complaint, both were the principal heirs of the estate, and under Swiss law, both jointly inherited Hepburn’s rights and have subsequently filed for trademark registrations. The two are said to have come to an agreement between themselves that no third party may obtain a global, limitless, perpetual license, and that any license requires joint consent.
If the charity frames the underlying dispute as where fundraising proceeds are directed, Ferrer speaks about “certain activity” by the charity and its board of directors which he believes to be “inconsistent with and contrary to the charitable intentions of his mother (including but not limited to a refusal to cut costs such as bloated executive salaries and other office expenses, along with an unacceptably small percentage of HFC’s income being used by HFC for charitable purposes).”
But since this is a legal action premised on intellectual property, the disagreement over the charity’s endeavors takes a back seat to issues pertaining to rights.
“On information and belief, HFC contends that it is now using the Hepburn Inherited IP Rights and Hepburn Trademarks pursuant to a perpetual, global, limitless license,” states the complaint. “However, neither Ferrer nor Dotti has ever granted (nor would they ever agree to grant) a license to any third party, including but not limited to HFC, that had no limit in time, geography and scope, or that lacked a reservation of Ferrer’s and Dotti’s rights to approve all uses of the Hepburn Inherited IP Rights and the Hepburn Trademarks on a project-by-project basis, including but not limited to the use of such intellectual property in connection with exhibitions and sub-licenses.”
The charity is said to be impermissibly using Hepburn on a variety of goods including apparel, umbrellas, handbags and portraits. The lawsuit also examines the charity’s use of audreyhepburn.com. Additionally, Ferrer says that the charity has improperly retained possession of personal property including legal and financial records, contracts, scripts and other Hepburn memorabilia.
Represented by attorney Lawrence Segal, Ferrer is suing for various trademark and Lanham Act causes of action plus claiming conversion. Here’s the full complaint.