Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top Ten Tea Em

Google's new database of court cases is pretty sexy for those of us without WestLaw or LexisNexis. But even more importantly, it has some ridiculous IP-infringement cases.

Carson v. Here's Johnny Portables (6th Cir. 1983)
For all you kids out there, Johnny Carson was a more sedate (and successful) Conan O'Brien. Ed McMahon — he's was akin to an untalented Max Weinberg — would announce Carson's coming onstage, by saying "Hereeeee's Johnny!"

Well, as you may or may not know, "John" is another word for toilet[1]. So a portable-potty company took the name, and appended "The World's Foremost Commodian," in order to make "a good play on a phrase," which was the 80s equivalent of "see what I did there?"

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it didn't violate ™ acts because nobody in their right mind would confuse a "Here's Johnny" chamber pot with the actual Johnny Carson (the same could not be said of Ed McMahon. Hi-ooooh![2]). However, the company did violate Carson's "right of publicity" which is a thing that was made up. Lawyers call that "common law."
Cher v. Forum Int'l Ltd (9th Cir. 1982)
This is actually a pretty boring case, something about magazines "exclusives." The ∆ again failed on "right of publicity." I'd just like to point out the document really listed just the one name for Cher. This is actually a good segue into...
Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Co. (9th Cir. 1996. [En Banc, bitches!])
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a basketball player who converted to Islam back when it was cool. He didn't even have to go to jail first! About 30 years later, GMC aired an ad comparing its 88 Oldsmobile[3] Consumer Digest[5] award to Kareem's awards in college. But, see, Kareem's name wasn't "Kareem" then; it was "Lew." GMC figured when you change your name you lose your rights to it.

GMC lost on account of douchiness.
The New Kids on the Block v. [Star & USA Today] (9th Cir. 1992)
Two newspapers ran 900-number polls on which was the hottest New Kid. NKotB sued them both, arguing that it looked like they were sponsoring the newspaper polls. Judge Kozinski absolutely tore into NKotB, saying they were a "blitzkreig" trying to create a "hegemon," and proclaiming they don't have "the right to control their fans' use of their own money."

The case also cites a bunch of interesting ones I won't abstract, including the Kellog/Nabisco "shredded wheat" debate, the landmark Disney/Air Pirates satire case, and Nintendo's unsuccessful fight against the Game Genie.

FYI: USA Today and Star made a combined $2500 from the phone lines, and USA Today donated its profits to the Berklee School of Music. And people wonder why I hate NKotB.
Sid & Marty Krofft Television[6] Prod. v. McDonald's Corp. (9th Cir. 1977)
The makers of H. R. Pufnstuf sued Mickey Dees for stealing their aesthetic to make McDonaldland. Again, for the kids, H. R. Pufnstuf was like 'Saul and the Mole Men,' but sincere and, thus, more frightening. McD's ad agency had been calling the Pufnstuf people asking them to license the rights, then suddenly stopped, hired people that used to work on the show, and went ahead with the ad campaign anyway. The Pufnstuf characters were actually replaced by the McDonaldland ones in the Ice Capades.[7]

McD's tried to use the 1st Amendment as a defense! More like Mc'Dicks. Hi-oohhh!
Nat'l Comics Publ'n v. Fawcett Publ'n (2nd Cir. 1951)
Ohhh shoot, it's the mid-century 2nd Circuit, aka The Judge Learned Hand[8] Show!

Nothing really cool happens in this case. Basically Fawcett made a bootleg Superman called "Captain Marvel," so DC sued them. All Hand did was remand it because the District Court somehow didn't understand the concept of plagiarism. Eventually DC ended up owning Fawcett, leading to the awesome fight embedded at the right, and setting precedent for...
Warner Bros. Inc., v. ABC (2nd Cir. 1983)
During the 80's had a show called 'The Greatest American Hero,' about a man given a super-powered suit by aliens. How could they remake 'V' and ignore this Anyway, the 2nd Circuit affirmed a ruling against DC, which had felt TGAH was onein a long line of Superman bite-offs. It's likely the greenlighting of 'The Greatest American Hero' was precipitated by the cinematic success of the Christopher Reeves Superman films, but that'd be like if Fox sued Universal for making 'Battlestar Galactica' after Star Wars. Oh, wait, they did? NM lawl

Sidebar: The Greatest American Hero had The Greatest American Theme Song.
Parks v. LaFace Records (E.D. Mich. 1999)
Rosa Parks sued Outkast because they made the song "Rosa Parks." The court ruled that nobody would think she sponsored it, because, y'know, people don't sponsor songs. ...Yet. Roc Nation, get on that.
Universal City Studios v. Nintendo Co. (2d. Cir 1984)
Universal sued Nintendo because people it was afraid people would confuse Nintendo's "Donkey Kong" with movie character "King Kong." Because, of course, King Kong was about 10' ape that threw barrels at plumbers in succeedingly complex — yet always incomplete — architecture. Nintendo actually ended up suing Universal for licesning King Kong to Tiger to make a bootleg Donkey Kong.

At the end of the case, the court compares Universal's claim unfavorably to the Cowboys' against Debbie Does Dallas. So, if you wever wanted to make that connection in your mind, go ahead.

Finally we come to my all time favorite number one case[9]:
Univ. of Notre Dame Du Lac v. 20th Century Fox (N.Y. App. Div. 1965)
Notre Dame sues Fox for optioning a book involving the school's football team. Since Notre Dame lost this case, I wonder what happened to the film. I feel if it had come out, we'd all have heard of it. Here is the plot description:
The Muslim king of a fake Arab state sends his son to Notre Dame, but the kid doesn't make the football team. Lusting for revenge, the king, forms his own team to defeat the Fightin' Irish. He hires — and this is where it gets cookin' — John Goldfarb, a Jewish CIA operative on his way to Russia who accidentally lands in the kingdom. Somehow the king parlays this into blackmailing the State Department to send Notre Dame over. Once they arrive, the Irish are rendered sick by a meal of spiced mongoose and lose the game (which, for some reason, was being ref'd by the CIA's Director). A female American reporter on the king's side ends up scoring the winning TD when — at the last minute — oil springs from under the field and pushes her past the goaline.
You're going to sit there and tell me you wouldn't watch that? While I didn't find it on IMDb, I did find 1998's Goldfarb: "A team of high school idiots are hired by a suburban mad scientist to track down and destroy a rogue zombie." I can't decide which has the better plot, probably because both are far too fabulous for me to comprehend.

Sadly, the "50 Cent v. Mexcian Club Promoters" case is not in Google's database. Anyone with WestLaw can hit up 2008 WL 4648999 (S.D.Fla.)

[1] I'd tell you to look it up on UrbanDictionary but I imagine the first hit would either be about prostitutes or some disturbing sex act.
[2] Ed McMahon:Hi-Oh::Mike Meyers:That's What She Said. nOrly.
[3] For people from the future[4]: The 88 was not the year: it was the flagship "full-size" Oldsmobile. Oldsmobile was a line of vehicles that GMC bought in 1908 and phased out in 2004. GMC was a car company in Detroit. Detroit was a city in America. We now know America as the half of the Obama Socialist Kingdom of Kenya that allows slavery.
[4] I totally stole this gag from Bill Simmons. Sosumi.
[5] Who remembers
Zillions? I loved those CD/mutual fund/bond racetrack charticles.
[6] The Bluebook has abbreviations for "telegraph" and "telephone" but
not "television."
[7] About 20 years after first hearing about them, I now realize "Ice Capadaes" is a pun on "escapades." Like they said in the 80's that's "a good play on the phrase."
[8] Yes, that was his real name. One time he was cited by Judge Minor Wisdom, and it totally blew the minds of a bunch of Boalt burnouts.
[9] Not counting cases that involve "loss of consortium." ::giggles::