Generic Fair Use

... where pop culture meets intellectual property law

Month: November 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Did Panem infringe trademarks or violate publicity rights by using Katniss Everdeen’s image as the “Mockingjay”?

Last weekend, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 made over $100 million at the box office.  The movie’s success is largely due to the strength of Jennifer Lawrence and the popularity of the books.  Enough digital ink has been spilled discussing the movie as a dystopian political outlook for young adult audiences.  Instead, here we repurpose the world of Panem as if it adopted the intellectual property laws currently in the United States.

 Accordingly, under that hypothetical, what trademark and publicity rights does Katniss Everdeen have?  Did the rebels and/or the nation-state of Panem violate or infringe any of these rights by exploiting her image as the “Mockingjay”?

 [mild spoilers ahead, proceed with caution if you have not seen the movie]

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The TTAB is now openly trolling the Washington Redskins

Remember a couple weeks ago when the Washington Redskins submitted a laundry list of registered trademarks that its counsel contended were offensive or disparaging?  And remember when that same week the makers of “Nut Sack Double Brown Ale” beer were granted a federal trademark registration over similar objections?  You should – I wrote it on the paper.

Now another beer maker has been granted what I will call a questionable trademark registration.  One that I am sure would have been listed right at the top of the Washington Redskins’ bad name list.  LEFT NUT BREWING COMPANY is now a federally registered trademark.  Really.  On November 13, 2015, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board reversed the decision of the trademark examining attorney and granted the registration.

I am sure that Daniel Snyder is handling this news with calm, cool reflection.  Or whatever the exact opposite of that is.

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Twelve Angry Men to determine whether the Indianapolis Colts infringed Texas A&M’s “12th Man” trademark rights

On Thursday, November 12, 2015, Texas A&M University filed suit against the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts[1] alleging infringement and dilution of its various “12th Man” trademark rights.  If this sounds familiar or redundant, remember that A&M previously sued the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks for unauthorized use of the same trademarks nearly a decade ago.  A&M eventually settled that matter with the Seahawks, with the NFL franchise agreeing to pay a license fee to A&M.  The actual terms of that license and settlement were never made public and Seattle continues to use variants of the “12th Man” name today.

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Today in Trademarks: Is “Nut Sack Double Brown Ale” less offensive than “Washington Redskins”?

Last week, counsel for the Washington Redskins submitted a lengthy brief to the Fourth Circuit that, in part, provided a laundry list of other trademarks that have been registered by the USPTO and were implicitly deemed not to be immoral, scandalous, disparaging or otherwise offensive.  In a parallel but unrelated matter, the owners of the trademark for NUT SACK DOUBLE BROWN ALE – for a beer flavor, naturally – overcame a challenge to their mark and were granted a federal trademark registration.

These two decisions seem incongruous, but are they really?  At the very least, I hope to see an episode of South Park where Cartman wears a Washington Redskins™ jersey while drinking a Nut Sack®-flavored drink.

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Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks Made Simple

[originally published November 5, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

Did you know that the Framers of the United States Constitution solidified the rights to copyrights and patents more than two years before the protection of freedom of speech?[1]  It is true.  The Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787, included the following specific provision:

Congress shall have the power to … promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.[2]

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Is Your Halloween Costume an Infringement?

[originally published on October 28, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

Halloween is on a Saturday this year.  I am anxious to see people of all ages walking around in full costume.  What a wonderful time of year.  Halloween is fun – and it brings out the creative side in almost everyone.  People will be dressed as superheroes, villains, cartoon characters, pop culture icons, scary monsters, and more.  But most of these costumes you will see represent characters that were created by someone else.

Is your Halloween costume infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights?

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My YouTube Cover Song is Legal, Right? (Well, maybe.)

[originally published on October 21, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

In August, Ryan Adams[1] announced his intentions to release song-by-song and nearly note-for-note cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album.[2]  He covered every single song and all of the same lyrics, just stripped down and re-recorded as a more guitar-based interpretation.[3]  It is a rather audacious project for an artist that is more of an indie musician than a pop star.  After the release of his covers album, many people asked me that all-too-common question:

How is that legal?  How is that not copyright infringement?

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The NFL will complain about your Vines (and GIFs)

[originally published on October 13, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

As a sports fan, Monday, October 12, 2015 was a strange and turbulent day.  USC fired Steve Sarkisian one day after asking him to take an administrative leave of absence (cue the employment lawyers).  Steve Spurrier, the head coach of the other USC – South Carolina – suddenly walked away and called it a career in mid-season.  Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott congratulated the Astros on making the American League Championship Series when they were leading 6-2 in the eighth inning, only for the Royals to score five quick runs and turn me into a blubbering mess of a baseball fan.  Someone in the governor’s office forgot about Yogi Berra and “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Yet the craziest sports story of the entire day might be something that happened over social media.  In the mid-afternoon, the Twitter accounts for Deadspin (@Deadspin) and SB Nation’s GIF-based sub account (@SBNationGIF) were suddenly suspended.  The initial reasons were murky, with media reports later suggesting that the National Football League used its influence with Twitter to suspend the accounts.  And why?  Because the Deadspin account and the SBNationGIF account both routinely posted or re-tweeted Vines and GIFs of highlight plays from NFL games. Which are copyrighted works.

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Express Yourself! A Primer on the Types of U.S. Trademarks

[originally published on October 12, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

Trademarks are everywhere.  Everything from a well-known slogan by a shoe company, to a famous organizational logo, to the signature color scheme or uniform of a performer can be considered as a trademark.  Trademarks can take many different shapes and forms, each of which may be protected by U.S. law.  The key is what can (or should be) protected and what may be enforced as the intellectual property rights of an individual or entity.  U.S. trademark law allows for a multitude of ways to express yourself or identify your product to the consuming public.  In fact, the law encourages this!

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How are DraftKings and FanDuel even Legal in the United States?

[originally published October 6, 2015 on www.law-dlc.com]

If you regularly watch sports or have stumbled across ESPN in the last few months, you are certain to have seen the relentless advertising campaigns by the companies DraftKings and FanDuel.  These advertisements are promoting what is known as “Daily Fantasy Sports” or “DFS” for short.  Fantasy sports, specifically fantasy football, experienced exponential growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coinciding directly with increased access to the internet and websites that served to process sports stats and information.  Every major sports website now hosts thousands of fantasy leagues year-round, usually for free.  The interest in season-long fantasy sports crested in the latter parts of the last decade, with millions of Americans participating in fantasy leagues every year.  Some of these leagues also allow for the possibility of winning millions of dollars.  Real, actual money.

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