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A feud between the widow of undersea explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau and his grandchildren and daughter-in-law over rights to the family’s world-famous name is bubbling to the surface in federal courts in Miami and Los Angeles. Each side operates nonprofit corporations under the Cousteau name that compete for donations and merchandise sales. Francine Triplet Cousteau, the famed explorer’s second wife and president of the 150,000-member Cousteau Society, claims she owns all rights to the family name and legacy. Jacques Cousteau died in 1997 at age 87. She first dispatched her lawyers in August to warn the grandkids against using the Cousteau name to promote a competing oceanographic organization they established last year in Fort Pierce, Fla. “We … demand that they immediately cease and desist from violating our clients’ rights,” wrote attorney Malcolm I. Lewin, a partner with New York City’s Morris Cohen Singer & Weinstein. Brother and sister Philippe Cousteau Jr. and Alexandra Cousteau and their mother, Jan Cousteau, in turn asked U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks in Miami this month to affirm their right to use the family’s name, history and personal photographs, “to conduct business” as the nonprofit Philippe Cousteau Foundation. The foundation, based at Fort Pierce’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, was named for their late father and husband. Philippe, Jacques Cousteau’s son, explored the oceans with his father until his untimely death in 1979 while trying to land a seaplane on the Taos River in Portugal. “This is not about a family feud, it’s about the right of American citizens to enjoy their family heritage,” says Richard T. Robol, a Columbus, Ohio, maritime attorney who represents the Philippe Cousteau Foundation. Robol is of counsel with Shayne & Greenwald. Attorney Lewin, who on Nov. 14 filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Cousteau Society in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging trademark and other violations, disagrees. “Follow the money,” says Lewin. “The grandchildren are trying to siphon off contributions to their grandfather’s legacy.” Francine Cousteau, a 55-year-old former airline flight attendant, married Jacques Cousteau in 1990, about six months after the death of his first wife of about 50 years, Simone. Francine and Jacques had two children prior to marriage, according to court papers. Alexandra and Philippe Cousteau are Francine Cousteau’s step-grandchildren. Alexandra, 24, is the foundation’s president and CEO and lives in Washington, D.C. Her brother, 21, is a foundation vice president. Philippe and his mother, a former fashion model, live in Fort Pierce. The Cousteau Society, founded by Jacques Cousteau in 1973, asserts in attorney Lewin’s Aug. 10 demand letter that they are “creating confusion and misperceptions in the public” between the two organizations by “unlawfully” using the Cousteau name, photographs of Jacques Cousteau, and even the society’s trademarked logo called the “manfish.” “The conduct of your clients has also led to a substantial likelihood of dilution of our client’s valuable property interests including their good will,” Lewin wrote. “Your clients’ conduct thus infringes on our client’s rights, constituting violations of trademark law and unfair trade practices and unfair competition law.” Lewin’s letter also charges that the Cousteau grandchildren are in business with Jean-Michel Cousteau, the explorer’s other son by his first wife, who was sued by his father in 1995 in federal court in California. Jean-Michel had been using the Cousteau name to promote various businesses, but in a 1996 settlement agreed to stop. Attorney Robol said, however, that Jean-Michel is not involved in the Philippe Cousteau Foundation that’s run by his niece and nephew. In addition to the alleged violations of federal trademark law, the Cousteau Society asserts its claim to Jacques Cousteau’s works and legacy are protected under the droit moral of France, which by statute protects the integrity, attribution and disclosure rights of artists and authors. Thus, according to the complaint filed by the grandchildren, the Cousteau Society contends that in the business context, French law precludes the grandchildren from using their surname, exhibiting family photographs or even referencing “historical facts” regarding family relationships. But the American grandchildren of one of France’s best-known citizens reject the idea that French law can touch them here. “They are bound solely by the laws and regulations of the United States of America and the state of Florida … not of France,” says their lawsuit.

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