Audrey Hepburn Children's Charity Sues Late Actress' Son

The suit claims that without court intervention, Sean Ferrer's actions will irreparably damage his late mother's "sterling reputation."
Audrey Hepburn

The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund is suing the iconic actress’ son for allegedly interfering with the charity’s ability to use her name and likeness for fundraising.

Since 2013, Sean Ferrer has taken "increasingly hostile actions" against the charity, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"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," writes attorney Steven E. Young in the complaint.

According to the complaint, Ferrer and his half-brother Luca Dotti created Hollywood for Children in 1993 to honor their mother's memory. The non-profit raised money for children's charities around the world by using Hepburn's likeness and exhibiting memorabilia from her estate. In 1998, they changed the charity's name to the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund.

Ferrer and Dotti equally own Hepburn's intellectual property and, according to the complaint, they agreed that either of them had "unrestricted unilateral authority" to allow third parties to use it for limited purposes. In 2013, according to the suit, Ferrer sent a notice to the Fund seeking to terminate its right to use Hepbern's IP for fundraising.

The charity also claims Ferrer took control of its GoDaddy account, which manages its website and emails, changed its password and has registered new domains without consulting Dotti — and tried to get famous fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy to falsify a donation letter.

The fund is asking the court for a declaration that it has an unlimited right to use the Hepburn IP for fundraising without Ferrer's permission. Further, it says if the court doesn't intervene Ferrer's actions will "irreparably damage the sterling reputation of the late Audrey Hepburn."

Writes Young: "Unless the Court definitively declares the rights, obligations and duties as between the Fund and Ferrer with regard to the use of the Hepburn IP, and restrains and enjoins the ongoing interference and harassment by Ferrer, the ability of the Fund to participate in specific exhibitions and to hold others in the future, and thus reap significant guaranteed income from them for charitable use is jeopardized, and may be precluded altogether."

The fund is suing Ferrer for intentional interference with contractual relationships and also is seeking damages and an injunction to keep Ferrer from registering any domain names based on Hepburn's IP and from interfering with any partner of the Fund.