John Wayne’s Heirs Shot Down in Dispute with Duke University over Duke Booze

October 1st, 2014 by

dukevdukeWell this one was put to bed quickly, but not on the merits. As detailed below, the estate of John Wayne had preemptively sued Duke University requesting a declaration of non-infringement over the estate’s intent to use the DUKE trademark on booze. Yesterday, the case was dismissed because the Court held that Duke University did not have sufficient contacts with the State of California to justify jurisdiction in California. John Wayne’s heirs are free to refile the case in North Carolina, where Duke University is located, and the fight over the trademarks continues at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Originally Posted on July 10, 2014

John Wayne Enterprises (JWE), a company run by heirs of the late movie star, is seeking declaratory judgment in a lawsuit against Duke University. JWE is suing because Duke University has opposed trademarks using the word “Duke” with the most recent application for Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the alcoholic beverages category.

The complaint paints a picture of how John Wayne is an American icon that has been using the nickname, Duke since he was a boy who didn’t like his actual name, Marion. Duke was originally the dog’s name. Throughout his career he was referred to as “The Duke” or “Duke”.

Duke University is opposing JWE’s trademarks because they are likely to cause confusion with their brand. JWE has countered that this is ludicrous and that there is no possibility of confusion between the research university and the word “Duke” when paired with John Wayne’s image or brand. Further JWE asserts that Duke University is trying to claim ownership of the word, duke, when it is a common word used throughout history.

JWE seeks declaratory judgment that their marks do not infringe those of Duke University, that there is no likelihood of confusion and attorney’s fees.



Posted in Brands, Film / Television, Trademarks

Animator Files Class Action Lawsuit over Lucasfilm / Pixar Secret Agreement to Suppress Salaries

September 30th, 2014 by

Some of the big animation studios including Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks find themselves on the wrong side of a class action lawsuit as plaintiffs claims the studios, in a super secret agreement between some CEO giants, agreed to suppress the the salary for animators.  Plaintiffs seek “hundreds of millions of dollars” for the alleged scheme.

The plaintiff in this case, Georgia Cano, is a former employee of several of the defendants who worked on such movies as Polar Express and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a special effects digital artist.  On behalf of herself, and other similarly situated artists, Cano claims that in the mid-1980’s, Lucasfilm founder, George Lucas, Pixar President, Ed Catmull and Pixar CEO, Steve Jobs, agreed to not solicit employees from each others’ organization.  Meaning George wouldn’t have a Pixar employee over to the Skywalker Ranch, wine and dine them, and then offer them a higher paying job at Lucasfilm.  This agreement grew to include the other named defendants over the next 25 years. Cano claims this agreement came to light in 2010 as part of a Department of Justice investigation into antitrusts and lead to signed settlements by Pixar and Lucasfilm banning such anti-solicitation agreements.

As a result of the anti-solicitation agreements, plaintiff claims that salaries of animators were artificially suppressed.  The plaintiff believes there are 50,000 such workers who were damaged by the alleged salary fixing.  The plaintiff claims such conduct violates the Sherman Antitrust Act and other unfair competition and unlawful business practices acts. The plaintiff seeks hundreds of millions of dollars, that amount tripled and her attorneys’ fees.





Posted in Film / Television, Labor & Employment

“Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run” Throws in the Towel in Trademark Fight

September 29th, 2014 by

The organizers of a Rocky inspired run took one on the chin and are down for the count in a trademark battle with MGM.

The “Rocky 50K Fat Ass Run” was a race that painstakingly recreated the Philadelphia training route of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character from Rocky II. The run was through Philadelphia with the famous climb up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But one small thing, the run’s organizers failed to get permission from MGM, the movie company behind the Rocky films and owner of the ROCKY trademark.  MGM also sponsors their own Rocky themed run.

Reports claim that MGM sent a cease and desist letter to the organizers on the run  and instead of answering the bell, the organizers of the run agreed to change the name of their race. The organizers are looking for a new name without the ROCKY trademark included this time.





Posted in Film / Television, Sports, Trademarks

Breaking News: Marvel and Jack Kirby Settle Long Legal Battle

September 26th, 2014 by

fantastic-4In a breaking story: Marvel and Jack Kirby have settled their long fought battle over some of the most iconic characters including Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and The X-Men.

In April, we wrote about the ongoing battle between the heirs of famed comic creator Jack Kirby and Marvel Entertainment. That story can be found here. Kirby’s heirs claimed that while their father was alive he transferred his rights in the characters to Marvel, and subsequently, after his death, they revoked such transfer, effectively reclaiming their father’s rights under the Copyright Act. But Marvel fought back filing an action for a declaratory judgment that it is, and always has been, the rightful owner of the comic book superheroes. Marvel asserted that Kirby’s creations were “works made for hire” and, as such, Marvel owned them all along. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment in favor of Marvel, and the Kirby heirs appealed.

On August 8, 2013, the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s decision holding that the comics at issue were, indeed, “works for hire” under copyright law.  Kirby’s heirs resorted to a seldom granted request for a rehearing en banc, whereby all the judges of the Second Circuit would rethink the decision and not just the three judges that sat on the panel.  On October 22, 2013, the Second Circuit in a short one page order denied such a request.

Today, the following statement was released:

“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.”

No details of the settlement have been released but this puts to end a long-running legal battle that has been fought out in Federal Court concerning the rights to many comic book characters.



Posted in Comics, Copyrights, Film / Television

“World of Warcraft” Wins Fees From “Game Master” in Voiceover Dispute

September 26th, 2014 by

WoWWorking as a game master for Blizzard may be cool but sometimes even the game master loses and lose big.  A California District Court has granted summary judgment in favor of Blizzard over an ex-employee who claimed copyright in voiceover work she did in the hugely successful video game and yesterday the Court granted Blizzard its costs of suit.

From 2005 to 2006, Amanda Lewis was assigned to work as a “game master” for Blizzard, responsible for helping out customers with service issues.  During this time, Blizzard permitted employees to audition as voiceover talent for the video game.  Lewis won the part of “Baby Murloc” but was surprised when her voice showed up in the video game and she sued for copyright infringement.

The court, in granting summary judgment for Blizzard, held that it was detailed as part of a game master’s duties to “assist with the creation of content” and since this is what Lewis did, the Court held that her voiceover work was a work-for-hire as prescribed by the Copyright Act.  Under the work-for-hire doctrine, the employer owns rights to all things created by an employee when they are “on the clock”.

wowYesterday, the court awarded Blizzard a little more than $30,000 in fees and costs mainly due to the Lewis’ statements about the case. Lewis stated threatened that Blizzard with some bad PR and demanded $1.2 million to settle the case when non-union voiceover work is usually paid $400. The judge found this position objectively unreasonable and awarded Blizzard its reasonable costs including attorneys’ fees. Lesson learned for this plaintiff.




Posted in Copyrights, Gaming, Labor & Employment

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