We have compiled some studies of copyright and trademark infringement cases that might interest you.
In 1996 an artist notified Universal Studios that they had used an unauthorized reproduction of his work when he went to the theatre and saw the film 12 Monkeys. The work in question was the chair in the interrogation room in which Bruce Willis sits several times throughout the movie. The artist had drawn the chair and had it published in a catalog in Germany in 1987 and later in the U.S.
The producer of the film obtained a location agreement for use of the 801 Tower in downtown Los Angeles as the Second Bank of Gotham. They did not, however, obtain permission from the artist who created the ornamental towers outside the building. The Court found that the towers had functional aspects designed to be part of the building plan. The district court found that the streetwall towers, even though they had artistic elements, are part of an ‘architectural work’. As such, the pictures taken of the streetwall towers along with the 801 Tower were not infringing.
The Devil’s Advocate
The sculpture, which is part of the building, at the Washington National Cathedral, is re-created by the Production. In the film, the sculpture comes to life and writes erotically in the apartment of the Devil. The artist and the National Cathedral both sued and won. Warner Brothers had to re-edit the film to change the portions where the sculpture appeared and put a sticker on all videotapes saying that the artist and the Cathedral did not endorse the work being used in the film.
The Naked Gun 33 1/3
In 1993, Paramount Pictures instituted an advertising campaign to promote the movie ‘Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult’. The producers mocked up the photo of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore that Annie Leibovitz took for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. They superimposed Leslie Neilson’s head where Demi Moore’s was. Leibovitz sued, but lost because the court found that the ad was a legally allowable parody.
Tiger Woods’ management company has recently sued an artist who painted a picture of Tiger Woods’ victory at Augusta who then later printed and sold copies of it. Woods claimed trademark infringement and violation of his right to publicity. Woods ultimately lost this case.
Actor, Dustin Hoffman, sued a Los Angeles magazine over a computer-generated photo that showed him wearing a silk dress and high heels in a March 1997 fashion advertisement, with the prices listed. Hoffman told the judge that he did not want his image used to sell dresses – or anything else for that matter. The actor had been nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Tootsie”, a film about a man so desperate for work he dressed as a woman to get a job.
Mike Nichols and Elaine May filed a lawsuit against A& E Television Networks and the producers of “The Fifties: The Burning Desire” for allegedly using a video clip of the duo’s comedy sketch in the cable series without their permission. The sketch was first aired on “The Perry Como Show” in 1958.
Singer Tom Waits was awarded $2.5 million from Frito-Lay Inc when the company used a sound-alike of Waits in a commercial they aired. The court said that a distinctive attribute of a celebrity could amount to an unregistered commercial trademark.
Laurel and Hardy
A court found a man guilty of deliberate infringement when he used songs from a Laurel and Hardy film. The owner of the film assured the man that they owned the rights to the music, but would not indemnify him against claims arising from use of this music. The man then had an attorney investigate the copyright status of the work. The attorney found that the copyright to this music was a “mess”. Despite this “mess”, the man released the music. The judge ruled willful infringement because the man released the song even though he knew that the ownership was cloudy.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
The estate of Robert May has won a case in which they claimed that The Pottery Barn’s use of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on lines of table settings, knickknacks, etc to be trademark infringement. The late Robert May wrote the original children’s poem as a promotion for Montgomery Ward.
Owners of copyright on the stage play “Pygmalion” sued certain parties, who were distributing copies of film derived from the play, for copyright infringement. The copyright to the film ‘Pygmalion’ had expired, but since exhibition of film necessarily involved exhibition of parts of the stage play, which was still copyrighted through 1988, the copyright owners of the stage play could prevent parties from exhibiting the film without their permission.
Yoko Ono sued a Tokyo subway operator over sales of prepaid passes showing an Andy Warhol portrait of John Lennon. The transit authority had permission from a local museum that staged a Warhol exhibit but not from Yoko Ono, who represents Lennon’s estate.
The owner of the famous photograph that became an icon of the Cuban Revolution sued an advertising agency for copyright infringement for using the photo in an ad campaign for Smirnoff. The photograph depicts the guerilla hero wearing a defiant stare and a beret adorned with a star. The photographer accuses the company of trivializing the photo’s historical significance.
DC Comics successfully sued the Kryptonite Bike Lock Corporation for trademark infringement. The judge in the case ruled that DC Comics does have a valid trademark in the word ‘Kryptonite’ because the Lanham Act protects ‘ingredients’ of an entertainment property, such as character names, nicknames, physical appearances and costumes. He ruled that Kryptonite is an ‘ingredient’ of Superman.