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intellectual property question

 12:51 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

In the movie Fight Club, Edward Norton/Brad Pitt run what Norton refers to as "Paper Street Soap Company". I've seen a few sites using the name, people selling products on ebay with the company name on it (soap, cards, etc.)

So, here's the thing. Certain names become intellectual property of the people who make a film (Rocky Balboa, Tyler Durden, Gordon Gekko). However, if a character makes a reference to a fictional business in the film (Paper Street Soap Company, Anacott Steel in the movie Wall Street), does that become the intellectual property of the film producers?

I'm asking because I wanted to register a .com and sell items with the name of a fictional company, a fake business name that is relatively obscure (mentioned only once in a film). I want to make sure that I don't register the .com, create merchandise and then get in legal hot water. There is a company called "Bubba Gump Shrimp", but I dont know if they had to pay off the makers of Forrest Gump (film companies will let you pay to license certain names, but its really expensive).

Only other question deals with slogans or catch phrases as a tie-in. Can you print a phrase from a film on merchandise, or register a .com of that phrase? Ex. "Hasta La Vista, Baby". Its sort of a generic term, but everybody associates it with The Terminator. So does that mean you cant print it on merchandise? (considering that you make no other reference to the terminator, through images or text, on the merchandise).

If anybody has any feedback, let me know.



 12:56 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

"Hasta La Vista, Baby" and so on.
Not a lawyer but it's tough. It has entered the mainstream language and that's on your side but if they want to sue, they'll bankrupt you. Also, by selling merchandise you lose any "I'm a fan" type thing.


 5:45 am on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

Well, Im pretty sure at this point I wont use slogans. But I would still like to use the name of a fictional business from a film.


 2:29 pm on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

Visiting the official movie web site to see if they are asserting trademark protection might be a start. The lack of TM indicators may be no guarantee that you are home-free, though.

Business names and catch phrases are tricky, and the movie's ability to protect them may depend on their uniqueness. It would be hard to say you came up with Bubba Gump Shrimp independently, while "Make my day" might be very hard to protect.

Movies are also messy because of conflicting copyright (and trademark) issues. Movies are often based on books, comics, etc., that have their own IP rights and license them in some limited way to the movie producers. Furthermore, actors and other participants in the movie may have their own rights. Some years ago, I was advertising software that was a spinoff from a Batman movie; we wanted to use a still from the movie as a catalog cover, and were told that it would require the permission of the actor (who was completely unrecognizable anyway) and a separate fee (yeah, right...). The quick solution was to use a shot of the software box, since the softare publisher had worked out their own IP rights for packaging. Very complex and messy area to dabble in. Get good legal advice!


 2:57 pm on Mar 17, 2004 (gmt 0)

I'm pretty sure the legal depts in major studios carefully check for the names of any characters and especially businesses that go into a movie so that any copyrights are cleared beforehand.

So I'm pretty sure there's NO "Bubba Gump Shrimp" before the movie Forest Gump but you could be almost certain they'll sue you if you register the name now.

I believe ALL the names appearing in Tolkien's novels are considered HIS intellectual property. If you're looking for a law suit you may go for Gandalf Consulting :)


 11:35 pm on Mar 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting question that depends so much on the specific facts in each case: just how prominent is the company name as part of the movie, and would people associate the company name with the movie, and does your use of the company name leverage off the goodwill or other aspects of the movie.

On a point of note: copyright can never subsist in very short words. In a case in the UK, despite "Exxon" spending millions to invent a new name, they could not prevent someone else in an unrelated field of business from using the name "Exxon Consulting". In this way, "Gandalf Consulting" could never be a copyright infringment. If we start taking about trademarks and passing off (unfair competition), that's when it gets interesting.

For the same reason, the expression "Hasta la vista, baby" could never be protected under copyright: it's too short. It is possibly a registered trademark: look it up, but likely to be protected for a narrow set of goods and services. However, once you combine that expression with other imagery and materials associated with the movie (i.e. the terminator voice, look, ... etc) then it moves towards more dangerous area. I would probably be safe to print tshirts that have just the phrase "hasta la vista, baby" without any indication of relationship to movies, terminator or so on. However, the US is quite far advanced in concepts of merchanising and it's possible that a registered trademark could be obtained for this sort of category to prevent anyone from using the phrase in this way.


 1:01 am on Mar 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

I did a quick search for [ wipo movie slogan ] on Google and found a few relevant results.

Try this search on Google-

>>> site:arbiter.wipo.int +wipo movie <<<

You might also search using related terms, ie- "slogan, saying, ficticous, etc.." with "wipo" or "udrp" in the search.

WIPO - World Intellectual Propert Organization
UDRP - Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy

Hope this helps.


 6:59 am on Mar 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting points. I've decided to not focus on any slogans, but on the fictitious business name.

As far as company relevance to the film, its very obscure. Obscure to the point where it is only mentioned by name two times, both in the same scene, and that particular business is not discussed or referred to at all in any way for the rest of the movie.

Nobody goes to said business location, either.


 4:48 am on Mar 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ex. "Hasta La Vista, Baby". Its sort of a generic term, but everybody associates it with The Terminator. So does that mean you cant print it on merchandise? (considering that you make no other reference to the terminator, through images or text, on the merchandise).

Actually, I'm pretty sure Arnold Schwarzenegger (not the studio) already has that trademarked himself, long ago, along with "I'll be back" - I"m sure I've read/heard about several celebs doing this with their signature phrases, and so the Donald's attempt at it is no surprise.


 8:58 am on Mar 21, 2004 (gmt 0)

"Hasta la Vista, Baby" MIGHT be... But "I'll Be Back?" too general. A politicial running for re-election could use that as their campaign slogan and probably wouldnt get sued. But you just know that Arnie is going to use that line come next election =D


 3:43 am on Apr 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

There was a company that tried to market Duff Beer (Homer's favourite brew in The Simpsons) Matt Groening's lawyers soon stopped them in their tracks.

But this is an obvious case of trying to exploit the loyalty of Simpsons fans.

If the name of the business only occurs very breifly in the film, why is is so important for you to use it? Is it a name that fans of the film will recognise instantly and want to do business with you - if so than the lawyers of the film will probably already be on the look-out for entrepaneurs. Or, is it that you really like the name and would love to use it.

If it were up to me I would be thinking:

-Red for STOP:
Using the name to blatently muscle in on the film's merchandising.
-Amber for CAUTION:
Using the name to sell products that fans of the film and similar films would like without explicitly targeting the film's fanbase.
-Green for GO:
Using the name for an unrelated product 'cos I really like the name. If i'd come up with this name myself and only later discovered it on the film, I'd put it down to co-incidence.

If you're really concerned, and it probably pays to be, just do without the name. I'm sure that name's not gonna get you many more customers than one you thought of yourself.


 3:50 am on Apr 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

On a more lighthearted note.

There was an advert here in the UK, on TV that featured men dressed up as housewives. A bloke at my work sent the ad-company a picture of his step-mother and accused them (jokingly) of stealing his mother's image to sell their product.

They sent him a voucher for a complimentary widget and letter claiming any likeness was co-incidental :)


 3:59 pm on Apr 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

"I'll be back" might be trademarked by Arnold (as we lovingly call him here in California, the looney-bin state) but I would think if you made "illbeback.com" and it was about MacArther's return to the Philippines in WWII you'd be fine. Just a thought...


 9:23 pm on Apr 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

That's hilarious, HarlsenC, but I hope his mum didn't find out about this... ;) Odd that he didn't suggest that it was his mother-in-law...


 9:40 pm on Apr 5, 2004 (gmt 0)

I believe ALL the names appearing in Tolkien's novels are considered HIS intellectual property. If you're looking for a law suit you may go for Gandalf Consulting :)

Gandalf is as far as I know a magic elf in the norse mythology, so is Gimli "Hall of the Blessed with a golden roof". Tolkien used some of his names from the Edda. So not sure if this is HIS intelectual property.


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