Pattishall IP Blog

November 27, 2012

When it Comes to Parody Twitter Accounts, Laughing Them Off May Be Your Best Move

Filed under: Internet, Social Media, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:39 pm

by Andrew R. W. Hughes

The @NYTOnIt Twitter feed managed to draw more than 20,000 followers and accolades from Time magazine with its wry send-ups of New York Times trend pieces.  Whenever the New York Times published a story that Benjamin Kabak found obvious, pompous, or otherwise groan-inducing, he took to his @NYTOnIt Twitter handle to mock the venerable publication.  When the New York Times ran a piece on teenagers’ bedrooms being messy, @NYTOnIt was there with, “GUYS, teenagers have messy bedrooms, and The Times is ON IT.”  An article about seniors and the Internet drew, “GUYS, some old people aren’t too up on the Internet, and The Times is ON IT.”

While many people found the account hilarious, the New York Times did not.  This week, the paper complained to Twitter, which suspended the account.[1]  The basis of the complaint was apparently not the content, but Kabak’s use of a modified version of the Times’ “T” logo as the handle’s avatar:

As the paper’s spokeswoman Eileen Murphy explained, “We’re not seeking to disable the account however it is important to The Times that our [trademark] is protected and that it is clear to all users of Twitter that parody accounts or other unofficial Times accounts are not affiliated nor endorsed by The Times.”[2]

Kabak claimed that his use of the modified Times logo was fair use.  Bolstering his claim was the fact that the description of the account explicitly stated that it was “a parody account clearly not associated with any newspaper.”[3]  Nonetheless, in accordance with its rules regarding trademark protection, Twitter initially suspended the account, before restoring it without the potentially infringing logo. (more…)

March 16, 2012

Bare Trademark Rights? Naked Cowboy’s Infringement Action Against CBS Dismissed

Filed under: Litigation, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 2:11 pm

By Janet Marvel, Trademark Attorney

Robert John Burck has made a career as a New York street performer.  He is (arguably) famous under his alias, “The Naked Cowboy”, appearing with his guitar in Times Square, clad only in a hat, boots and briefs.  In Naked Cowboy v. CBS, 101 USPQ2d 1841 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2012), Burck sued CBS for what he believed was a  take-off of his Naked Cowboy character in the CBS television soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful,” a segment of which CBS later posted on You Tube.  In the soap opera episode, a character appears clad similarly to the Naked Cowboy, namely, with guitar, boots, hat and briefs only.  Burck alleged trademark infringement, state and federal unfair competition, fraud, and violation of New York’s right of privacy statute, New York Civil Rights Law §§ 50, 51.  The court dismissed the complaint, holding that while Burck owned trademark rights in “Naked Cowboy,” CBS had not used “Naked Cowboy” in commerce

CBS titled its You Tube clip “The Bold and the Beautiful – Naked Cowboy” and  purchased the You Tube adword “naked cowboy.”  The court held that purchase of adwords was not trademark use because Defendants did not use the term “naked cowboy” in a way that denotes source or sponsorship.  The holding with respect to adword use seems directly contrary to the holding in Rescuecom Corp. v. Google, Inc., 562 F.3d 123 (2d Cir. 2009), which held that Google’s sale of adwords constituted use in commerce.  Indeed, for support, the Naked Cowboy court cited Merck v. Mediplan Health Consulting, Inc., 425 F. Supp. 2d 402, 415 (SDNY 2006), the holding of which Rescuecom cast into doubt.

The court also held that CBS’s use of “Naked Cowboy” in the title of its You Tube clip was not intended (at least on the facts plaintiff pled) to trade on the plaintiff’s goodwill, and therefore that it was “fair use.”  Fair use typically requires a showing that the mark is used nominatively, descriptively, or comparatively.  Reading between the lines, the court must have considered that any performer with boots, briefs and a guitar was an (almost) “naked cowboy,” hence the use was descriptive.

Nor did the court find that the soap opera actor’s costume infringed that of the Naked Cowboy, because Burck plasters “Naked Cowboy” and “Tips” across his articles of clothing, while the actor did not.

Finally, the court rejected the Naked Cowboy’s claim that CBS violated New York’s right of privacy statute, which forbids the “use [] for advertising purposes or for purposes of trade,  the name, portrait or picture of any living person, without prior consent.”  N.Y. Civ. Rights § 50.  The court rejected this argument, citing the Burck’s previous loss in Burck v. Mars, a case in which the Naked Cowboy alleged that a talking M&M candy violated his right of privacy:  “[T]he right of privacy  does not extend to fictitious characters adopted or created by celebrities[,] and it does not protect ‘a trademarked costumed character publicly performed by a person.'”

The case, while probably not doctrinally correct should give hope to naked cowboys everywhere.

*     *     *

Janet Marvel is a partner with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.  Ms. Marvel’s practice focuses on litigation, transactions, and counseling in domestic and international trademark, trade dress, Internet, and copyright law.  She co-authored the Fifth Edition of the Trademarks and Unfair Competition Deskbook, recently published by LexisNexis.

For a printer-friendly version, click here.

November 30, 2011

Green Day Awarded Attorneys’ Fees Against Artist After Defeating Copyright Infringement and Unfair Competition Claims With Fair Use Defense

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:27 pm

Categories: Copyright, Litigation
Tags: Copyright, Fair Use, Attorney’s Fees, Phillip Barengolts

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

Green Day, a punk band most of us know for the song Good Riddance,[1] and others remember for songs like Basket Case,[2] was sued by artist Derek Seltzer for copyright infringement and unfair competition over Green Day’s use of his work Scream Icon in connection with Green Day’s song East Jesus Nowhere.[3]  More precisely, Green Day’s co-defendant Roger Staub, a photographer and set designer photographed a torn Scream Icon poster he saw on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Avenue in Los Angeles, altered the color and contrast, added a brick background, and superimposed a red spray-painted cross over the image.  On summary judgment, Green Day defeated the copyright claim with a fair use defense and the unfair competition claim because Green Day did not use Scream Icon in a trademark manner.[4]  For a thorough discussion of that decision, see Professor Tushnet’s post at  Seltzer has appealed the ruling and briefing is scheduled to close in April 2012.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Court awarded Green Day $128,000 and its co-defendants an additional $72,000 in attorneys’ fees.  Seltzer v. Green Day, Inc., No. 10-2103 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 17, 2011).[5]  In an arguably close case that turned on fair use analysis, why did the court grant Green Day its fees?  Let’s take a closer look.

Under the Copyright Act, a court “may award a reasonable attorneys’ fee to the prevailing party . . .” 17 U.S.C. § 505.  The court properly referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), which highlighted that a prevailing defendant must be treated similarly to a prevailing plaintiff in the award of attorneys’ fees.  The court observed, “The pivotal inquiry is whether the successful defense furthered the goals of the Copyright Act.”  It then proceeded to analyze the Ninth Circuit’s attorneys’ fees factors: “ (1) the degree of success; (2) frivolousness; (3) motivation; (4) the objective unreasonableness of the losing party’s factual and legal arguments; and (5) the need, in particular circumstances, to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.

Immediately, we see a problem for the plaintiff when, according to the court, plaintiff cited to bad law in the Ninth Circuit, which had established a “dual” standard for attorneys’ fees in copyright claims – plaintiffs usually won them, defendants had to show a plaintiff’s claim was objectively unreasonable or frivolous.  The court was harsh: “Plaintiff’s citation to Hustler, a case applying the ‘dual’ standard rejected by the Supreme Court in Fogerty, edges close to an affirmative attempt to mislead the Court.” (more…)

July 8, 2011

Copying a Photograph Openly Available Over the Internet Constitutes Copyright Infringement, Despite Attempted Fair Use Defense by Appropriation Artist

Filed under: Copyright, Internet — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 5:08 pm

Categories: Copyright, Internet
Tags: Copyright Infringement, Internet, Photograph, Fair Use, Phillip Barengolts

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

In 1985, Glen E. Friedman took a photograph of Run DMC, a then famous and now iconic rap group, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and wearing black Stetson hats (the “Friedman Photograph”).  The photograph itself became relatively famous.  Friedman published the photograph in a not-so-family-friendly titled book F**k You Heroes, and in 2003 obtained a copyright registration for the photograph.  Thierry Guetta, an appropriation artist[1] known as Mr. Brainwash,[2] found the Photograph on the Internet and, by his own admission, used a digital image of the Friedman Photograph in the creation of his own works.  Friedman sued Guetta.[3]

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court for the Central District of California found that Guetta’s works infringed the Friedman Photograph.  Friedman v. Guetta, 2:10-cv-00014 (C.D. Cal. May 27, 2011).[4]  The Court denied Guetta’s motion, which was based upon an argument that the works were not substantially similar in their original aspects and the fair use defense.  (more…)

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