Wednesday, November 30, 2005

“Survivor” Survives Trademark Infringement Suit Brought by Beach-Themed Product Creator

The company behind Surfvivor, a trademark for beach-themed products, sued the creators of the reality television show “Survivor” for trademark infringement. Despite the confusion reported by Surfvivor that some entities had in the marketplace, the Federal District Court granted summary judgment in favor of “Survivor” and dismissed the case. The Court found that the marks were not similar enough to cause consumer confusion.

Surfvivor appealed immediately, but its action did not survive for long. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeal based its opinion on two strands of thought. First, the Court concluded that no actual confusion existed between the two trademarks. If nearly all of the customers and retailers had no confusion, then “customers were not likely to associate the two products or conclude [they] came from the same source.”

Second, the Court reasoned that Surfvivor did not suffer any damages. For example, no merchants stopped doing business with Surfvivor due to any confusion.

Surfvivor Media, Inc. v. Survivor Productions, 406 F.3d 625, 2005 U.S.App.LEXIS 7688 (9th Cir. 2005).

Right of Publicity Does Not Cover the Same Subject Matter as Copyright

A model, June Toney, signed a contract for her photo to be used by Ultra Sheen Supreme Shampoo. The contract ended in November 2005, but Ultra Sheen continued to use Toney’s photo. Toney brought suit under an Illinois right of publicity statute.

The Federal District Court dismissed her suit based on a section of the Federal Copyright Act that preempts state law claims if the subject matter is covered under the Copyright Act itself. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

But Toney was not through. She petitioned the Court of Appeals for a rehearing and the Court reversed its previous ruling. The Court reasoned that the Illinois statute protects a person’s “identity,” while the Copyright Act applies to creative works that are fixed in a tangible medium. The Court wrote, “Toney’s identity is not fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” The subject matter was not the same, and therefore not covered under the Copyright Act.

Furthermore, the Court found another distinction. The Illinois statute protects the right to control the commercial value of a person’s identity. The Copyright Act, in contrast, protects the right to reproduce and perform works.

The case was remanded to the District Court to proceed on the right of publicity claim.

Toney v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., 406 F.3d 905, 2005 U.S.App.LEXIS 7897 (7th Cir. 2005).