LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Audrey Hepburn’s eldest son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, prevailed in a lawsuit brought against him by a charitable organization he established in 1993 to advance his mother’s philanthropic efforts. After a four-week court trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, the judge, the Honorable David Sotelo, found that there was no merit to the charity’s claims that it had the independent right to use Audrey Hepburn’s name and likeness, or to enter into contracts with third parties without Ferrer’s consent.
In February 2017, California-based Hollywood for Children (HFC) — whose three-member board is composed of Ferrer’s half-brother – Luca Dotti, Ferrer’s former attorney – Paul Alberghetti, and a former assistant – sued Ferrer and sought to establish that it had separate enduring rights to use Audrey Hepburn’s name and likeness without Ferrer’s consent, even though Ferrer (with his brother) are the sole owners of her intellectual property rights. HFC also sought in excess of US$6 million dollars in damages from Ferrer for his alleged interference with agreements that HFC entered into with third parties, allegedly permitting them to engage in the use of Audrey Hepburn’s name and likeness without Ferrer’s consent. The Court found that HFC never had the independent right to use Miss Hepburn’s name and likeness, other than as part of its dba: “The Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund.” Thus, the Court found that HFC’s actions, entering into contracts with third parties without Ferrer’s consent, exceeded its rights and were unlawful. By virtue of finding in Ferrer’s favor, the Court also found that there was no legal basis for HFC’s claim for interference with contract and therefore ruled in Ferrer’s favor on HFC’s damage claim as a matter of law, declining to permit that claim go to trial.
Ferrer’s lead trial counsel, Lawrence Segal, said, “It was always clear to me that HFC took improper liberties, far beyond any limited permission to use the intellectual property rights that Sean may have previously allowed them in the past. They became self-entitled and started to act as if they were the owners of the rights, instead of Sean and his brother. HFC tried to usurp Sean’s control over his own mother’s name and likeness. It demonstrates a certain level of audacity when Sean had granted HFC permission in the past to use the Audrey Hepburn intellectual property for limited fund-raising purposes and on a case by case basis, and then to find that HFC had stopped asking for permission and started financially exploiting rights which it does not own or control. The Court found that HFC never had a license or independent right in the Audrey Hepburn name and likeness at any point in time, and the entirety of what HFC claimed and asserted in its lawsuit against Sean was rejected by the Court. Sean prevailed on all counts.”
Upon learning of the Court’s decision, Sean Hepburn Ferrer stated, “after having been vilified in public court filings and press releases, the truth has finally emerged. When I formed Hollywood for Children back in 1993, it was with the best intention to continue our mother’s humanitarian efforts which has become a family culture. After resigning from Hollywood for Children in 2012, I asked my brother to take its helm. I then became the honorary Chair of the Audrey Hepburn Society at the US Fund for UNICEF which, as its President Caryl Stern testified to, went on to raise in excess of US$150,000,000 for children worldwide. Nevertheless, when my brother Luca refused to continue to grant the Society a license, we had to close it. If one reviews Hollywood For Children’s 990 tax returns, which are available online, it appears as though this case was never about charity. To have one’s own brother and former attorney turn on you, each for their own opportunistic reasons, made this entire experience one of the darkest of my life. The headlines basically read ‘Audrey Hepburn (Charity) sues her son.’ I spent a lifetime on the ‘straight and narrow’ and to have been questioned to this extent was a test. Is it a victory? Considering what was at stake and the people involved, I am more relieved than victorious. Hopefully, I can now get back to what counts: continuing our mother’s legacy of grace and humanity.”
The suit was originally filed in February of 2017 and Judge Sotelo heard final arguments in July. The Honorable David Sotelo’s nine-page Statement of Decision in this non-jury trial and can be found here.