First Amendment

Entertainment Law Update Podcast - The Top Cases and News of 2016


Listen to Dallas-area music lawyer Tamera Bennett and Los Angeles film lawyer Gordon Firemark discuss the latest entertainment law issues on the Entertainment Law Update Podcast.

Click the arrow below to listen to the Entertainment Law Update Podcast or subscribe in iTunes.

In Episode 80 of the Entertainment Law Update Podcast, Tamera and Gordon offer an unscientific take on the top copyright, trademark, film, TV and other entertainment law cases of the year. The round-up includes:

Please leave us listener feedback at the iTunes store. Your comments will help other folks find our podcast.

EntLaw Update does a phenomenal job of keeping you current on issues of interest to anyone working at the intersection of law and media. Hosts Gordon Firemark and Tamara Bennett are personable and engaging, presenting stories in well-organized fashion that often leaves room for humor. As an avid consumer of law podcasts, I have to say this one is my favorite — if you need a reminder that the law isn’t *always* boring, Entertainment Law Update is what the doctor ordered!
— Michael

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Entertainment Law Update Podcast - Live From Austin - Episode 79

#podcast #entlawupdate Attorney Tamera Bennett Attorney Gordon Firemark Entertainment Law Update Podcast News

Listen to Dallas-area music lawyer Tamera Bennett and Los Angeles film lawyer Gordon Firemark discuss the latest entertainment law issues on the Entertainment Law Update Podcast.

Click the arrow below to listen to the Entertainment Law Update Podcast or subscribe in iTunes.

In Episode 79 of the Entertainment Law Update Podcast Tamera and Gordon record live at the TexasBarCLE Entertainment Law Institue CLE. Professor Stan Soocher joins them as a guest co-host. 

Entertainment Law In the News Discussed:

Prof. Stan Soocher Interviews Tamera Bennett and Gordon Firemark:

  • For a fun change of pace, rolls are reversed and Tamera and Gordon are interviewed on the "Laws of Podcasting."
  • Insight on using music in podcasting
  • Name and likeness releases for podcasting
  • Protecting your content when you podcast
  • and much more

You can find more links to stories discussed on Google+ in the "Legal Issues of Podcasting" Community.

Please leave us listener feedback at the iTunes store.

Gordon and Tamera select current situations in entertainment law to update attorneys and others. Their discussions are highly informative, a great review of the law, and easy listening. A pleasure to tune in - how often can you say that about a CLE?

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Is That Fair (Use)? Third Party Trademarks in Film, Print, Video Games and other Media


This article was written by Dallas-area trademark lawyer Tamera H. Bennett with great assistance from Video Game Lawyer Zack Strebeck.


Brands are everywhere. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 193,121 trademark registrations were issued in 2013 alone.  With brands pervading our daily lives, we’re accustomed to seeing those brands show up in alternate realities such as film, TV, comparative advertising and even video game worlds.

Is a “brand” any different than a trademark? Not really.  Brand is the pop culture term for a trademark.  A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.  A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.  Throughout this article, the terms “trademark” and “mark” refer to both trademarks and service marks.

Trademarks enable the public to recognize goods or services as originating from a particular source. A trademark owner can stop others from using its trademark in order to prevent the public from being confused about the source of the goods or services. Use of another’s trademark may be permissible as “fair use” if the use does not infringe the trademark. We are going to take a look at how a third party may successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully use a trademark they don’t own in a media context.

I.          Fair Use and Trademarks

A.        Descriptive Fair Use

What do we do when a trademark also describes a person, a place or an attribute of a product?  A trademark owner can’t have exclusive rights in such use as too many terms would be taken out of the language for commonevery day usage. Trademark law recognizes a defense where the mark is used only "to describe the goods or services of [a] party, or their geographic origin." 15 U.S.C. § 1115(b)(4). "The [descriptive] `fair-use' defense, in essence, forbids a trademark registrant to appropriate a descriptive term for his exclusive use and so prevent others from accurately describing a characteristic of their goods.” New Kids on the Block v. News America Publishing, Inc., 971 F.2d 302, 306 (9th Cir. 1992).

When the allegedly infringing term is ‘used fairly and in good faith only to describe to users the goods or services of [a] party, or their geographic origin,’ Lanham Act § 33(b)(4), 15 U.S.C. § 1115(b)(4) (1976), a defendant in a trademark infringement action may assert the "fair use" defense. The defense is available only in actions involving descriptive terms and only when the term is used in its descriptive sense rather than its trademark sense.

Zatarain's, Inc. v. Oak Grove Smokehouse, Inc., 698 F.2d 786, 791 (5th Cir.1983) quoting Soweco, Inc. v. Shell Oil Co., 617 F.2d 1178, 1183 (5th Cir.1980). The court held in Zatarain’s that “Fish-Fri” is a descriptive term for coating for fish.  The term “Fish Fry” may be used by a competitor in its ordinary, descriptive sense.

B.        Nominative Fair Use

Sometimes there is only one way to convey a message.  And, when that situation arises, use of a third-party trademark will be considered fair use. In addition to a statutory descriptive fair use, we now have a judicial carve-out for nominative fair use.

With many well-known trademarks, such as Jell-O, Scotch tape and Kleenex, there are equally informative non-trademark words describing the products (gelatin, cellophane tape and facial tissue). But sometimes there is no descriptive substitute . . . when many goods and services are effectively identifiable only by their trademarks. For example, one might refer to "the two-time world champions" or "the professional basketball team from Chicago," but it's far simpler (and more likely to be understood) to refer to the Chicago Bulls. In such cases, use of the trademark does not imply sponsorship or endorsement of the product because the mark is used only to describe the thing, rather than to identify its source.

The concept of nominative fair use is what allows us in the U.S. to have comparative advertising, parody and noncommercial use of trademarks.

New Kids at 306. To prove nominative fair use, a defendant must satisfy three requirements: (1) the plaintiff's product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark; (2) only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the plaintiff's product or service; and (3) the user must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.  E.S.S. Entm't 2000, Inc. v. Rock Star Videos, Inc., 444 F.Supp.2d 1012, 1029 (C.D.Cal.2006).

The concept of nominative fair use is what allows us in the U.S. to have comparative advertising, parody and noncommercial use of trademarks.  A woman who was a Playboy Playmate should be allowed to describe herself in the capacity without infringing the trademarks.  Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Welles, 279 F.3d 796, 801 (9th Cir. 2002). The court agrees saying the use of the Playboy trademarks is nominative.

While comparative advertising must be truthful and comply with all Federal Trade Commission requirements, it’s okay for a Coca Cola® advertisement to use a Pepsi® product in a comparative advertisement.  The nominative fair use defense is, clearly applied when the defendant uses the plaintiff’s mark to refer to the plaintiff’s product, even though the defendant's ultimate goal is to describe his own product.  E.S.S. Entm't 2000 at 1029.

C.    First Amendment vs Trademark

The legal standards for determining trademark fair use may shift when we move from a descriptive or commercial use into a creative use.  In the United States, creative works are protected as free speech by the First Amendment.  Because of that protection for the whole work, even the title of the work, a balancing act must occur between the rights of the trademark owner and the First Amendment rights that arise in the creative work.  Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989).  If the court determines there is a likelihood of consumer confusion, it will then balance the trademark rights against the freedom of expression rights.

The Rogers test arises from a question of whether or not a title to a film infringes upon the trademark and personality rights of a famous person while balancing First Amendment rights.

What is that standard when we are talking about expressive works? The test used by multiple circuits (originally in the 2nd Circuit, but later adopted by courts in the 7th, 9th and 11th Circuits) is the two-prong Rogers test:  1) whether the use of the third-party trademark has artistic relevance; and 2) if so, is it deliberately misleading as to the source or content of the work.  Rogers and the cases adopting its holding have consistently framed the applicable standard in terms of confusion as to the defendant's artistic work as a whole and not solely the alleged use of the defendant’s trademark.  Louis Vuitton Mallatier v. Warner Bros., 868 F. Supp. 2d 172, 179 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).  Expressive works include art work, motion pictures, songs and books. 

D.        Titles: 

The Rogers test arises from a question of whether or not a title to a film infringes upon the trademark and personality rights of a famous person while balancing First Amendment rights. In general, courts do not want to reach a Constitutional analysis if a decision can be reached by application of other laws.  That’s what happened in Eastland Music v. Lionsgate Entertainment, 707 F.3d 869 (7th Cir. 2013), when the court held there was no trademark infringement of rap artist’s PHIFTY 50 name by the film titled 50/50.  The district court dismissed the complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), ruling the movie's title descriptive because the film concerns a 50 percent chance of the main character surviving cancer and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Eastland Music at 870.  “It is unnecessary to consider possible constitutional defenses to trademark enforcement . . . because this complaint fails at the threshold: it does not allege that the use of "50/50" as a title has caused any confusion about the film's source.” Id. at 871.

E.        Film:

Dark Night Rises

In the film “The Dark Knight Rises,” Catwoman sought to erase her criminal record from every computer database around the world.  To do it she had to get her paws on the fictional CLEAN SLATE software developed by the fictional company "Rykin Data Corporation."   Fortres Grand Corp., a very non-fictional company has a software product called the “Clean Slate” and a registered trademark for "[c]omputer software used to protect public access computers by scouring the computer drive back to its original configuration upon reboot."  Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., No. 13-2337 (7th Cir. Aug. 14, 2014).

Fortres Grand noticed product sales were declining after the 2012 movie release and brought suit against Warner Bros. for trademark infringement. The District Court held for Warner Bros., finding there could not possibly be confusion as to the source of origin of the two products since Warner Bros. is in the business of making movies and Fortres Grand makes software.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed.

In this case, even though we are talking about an expressive and very creative work in the nature of the film, the Court of Appeals never mentions the Rogers test and makes its decision based on the traditional trademark infringement standard of likelihood of consumer confusion. We have to look at the District Court opinion to review the analysis under Rogers and the decision reached after reviewing the Rogers test. “In this case, there can be little doubt that Warner Bros, has satisfied both prongs of the Rogers test. The first prong — artistic relevance — establishes a purposely low threshold which is satisfied unless the use ‘has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever.’” Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, 947 F. Supp. 2d 922, 932 (N.D. Ind. 2013).  Additionally, Warner Bros. clearly satisfied the second prong of the Rogers test — the film's use of "clean slate" is not "explicitly mislead[ing] as to the source or the content of the work." Id.

The District Court found there was no plausible claim for consumer confusion and Warner Bros.’ use of “Clean Slate” is protected by the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed without ever reaching the First Amendment question. Fortres Grand, No. 13-2337 (7th Cir. Aug. 14, 2014).

Hangover II

Another fun case involves the Louis Vuitton design trademarks and the movie HANGOVER II. Louis Vuitton Mallatier v. Warner Bros., 868 F. Supp. 2d 172, 179 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). One of the lead characters in the film travels with an ensemble of "fake" Louis Vuitton bags. To add insult to injury, the character even mispronounces the name of the brand in the film. Louis Vuitton sued. Interestingly enough, Louis Vuitton did not file suit claiming consumer confusion because Vuitton did not authorise the use fo the bags in the film. Rather, Louis Vuitton claims that Warner Bros. used a third-party's bag that allegedly infringes on the Louis Vuitton marks. Remember - it was a "fake" bag.

The District Court applied the Rogers Test finding 1) sufficient artistic relevance in using the Louis Vuitton mark in the film, and 2) using the "fake" bag was not intentionally misleading. The trademarks were not used in a way to "induce members of the public to believe [the film] was prepared or otherwise authorized" by Louis Vuitton.

Louis Vuitton was hung up on arguing that using the "fake" bag somehow created liability because consumers would believe the "fake" was the real thing. The court would not extend the law to include liability for using a "fake" trademark in the film.

F.         Songs:

Barbie Girl

The Ninth Circuit held that the use of the trademark BARBIE was permitted in a song and its title which parodied and made fun of the vacuous, party-girl image that has evolved from the BARBIE doll. Applying the Rogers test the court found that the use of the mark in the song title had artistic relevance to the content of the song.  Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1171, 123 S. Ct. 993, 154 L. Ed. 2d 912 (2003). And, for all you Texas music fans out there, the result should be the same for the song “Barbie Doll” by Jack Ingram.

G.        Visual Arts:

Paintings and works of art clearly fall under First Amendment protection.  In balancing the rights for free expression and artistic relevance against any possible misleading as to the source of a particular painting, the Eleventh Circuit held the First Amendment trumped trademark rights in original paintings of the University of Alabama football team.  University of Ala. Bd. of Trustees v. New Life Art, 683 F. 3d 1266 (11th Cir. 2012).

H.        Video Games:

As technology improves and video games become more realistic, the issue of third-party trademark use in the games industry is becoming increasingly relevant. Already, there have been a few important cases which bring the tests and case law from other media into video game industry trademark disputes.

The Supreme Court in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n, 131 S.Ct. 2729 (2011), stated, “[l]ike the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices [such as characters, dialogue, plot and music] and through features distinctive to the medium [such as the player's interaction with the virtual world]. That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

Grand Theft Auto

In E.S.S. Entm’t 2000 v. Rock Star Videos, 547 F.3d 1095, 1097 (9th Cir. 2008), Rock Star created the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In the game, which itself is set in a parody of the Los Angeles area, there is a strip club called the “Pig Pen Gentlemen’s Club” in an area that resembles East Los Angeles.  E.S.S. operates a real-world strip club called the “Play Pen.”  The styling of the building and logo is very similar for both, and the facts indicate that Rock Star’s artists traveled to the area and photographed locations for reference.

Grand Theft Auto Pay Pen Trademark fair use

The creation of the “Los Angeles” atmosphere in the Grand Theft Auto game met the Court’s “minimum threshold” standard for artistic relevance. The Court also found that a consumer would probably not believe that the owners of the Play Pen would have created this video game. Therefore, they found no misleading behavior on Rock Star’s part.


Dillinger, LLC v. v. Electronic Arts Inc., 795 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ind. 2011), is a lawsuit brought by the heirs of famed criminal John Dillinger for infringement by Electronic Arts in their video games based on the “Godfather” movies. In the games, “Dillinger” is used to refer to the firearms (so-called Tommy guns) used by the player.

The Court found, in applying the Rogers test, there was artistic relevance in referring to the gun as a Dillinger, as that was the real person’s firearm of choice. No evidence was presented of any misleading actions on the part of Electronic Arts, either, so both prongs of the test were met and Electronic Arts was granted summary judgment.

Battlefield 3

Both statutory law and common law allow for fair use of trademarks in commercial works and expressive works.
— Tamera H. Bennett

In  Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Textron, Inc., No. C 12-0018 (N.D. Cal. July 25, 2012), Electronic Arts sought a declaratory judgment from the district court regarding their use of Textron’s protected trade dress in various military hardware. Electronic Arts argued that their video game, Battlefield 3, was an expressive work protected by the First Amendment. Given that, they were entitled to the same fair use protections entitled to other media forms.  Initially there was a license between Electronic Arts and Bell for use of the Bell helicopters in the video game. Electronic Arts announcedit would no longer pay the license fees and sought a declaratory judgment of non-infringement. Textron responded by filing various trademark infringement counterclaims.

The District Court, however, distinguished this case from the earlier E.S.S. case in the same circuit. Where the Pig Pen strip club was merely part of the background in the Grand Theft Auto game, the helicopters in Battlefield 3 were more prominent in both the game and its advertisements. In rejecting the motion to dismiss, the District Court held that it was plausible that a consumer could believe that Textron had supported the game or authorized the use of its marks. Even a disclaimer, the Court said, was not enough to overcome this possibility. The two companies later settled the dispute on confidential terms.


Using a third-party trademark in your next film, TV show, song or video game my very well be permissible without securing permission. Both statutory law and common law allow for fair use of trademarks in commercial works and expressive works. Keep in mind, even in an expressive work, the courts will not always reach a First Amendment analysis if a decision can be reached under a traditional likelihood of consumer confusion analysis.

Links to cases cited in this article and other news reports of interest are located in a collection on Google Plus.

The article was originally published as part of the course materials for the TexasBarCLE Entertainment Law Institute 2014.

Who Controls Your Likeness? Balancing Right of Publicity and Free Speech

Originally Published in TEXAS LAWYER*

Tamera H. Bennett

Tamera H. Bennett

Sharing photos has never been easier. From checking out Ellen Degeneres' selfies at the Oscars to uploading family vacation pictures, even lawyers don't always think through how third parties might use their likenesses. But two pending court cases might change that.

Imagine that a photographer allows an engaged couple to post engagement photos online. Then, a political mailer features—without the couple's permission—a photo of them kissing, superimposed on a new background with the prominent text "State Sen. [XYZ]'s idea of 'family values'?" It happens during a heated primary race where gay marriage is a hot button topic, the mailers oppose same-sex marriage, and the newly engaged people are two gay men.

Or, imagine someone learning via Facebook that a full-color, quarter-page advertisement used her likeness and included the statements: "I am positive (+)," "I have rights," and "People who are HIV positive are protected by the New York State Human Rights Law. Do you know your rights?" By the way, the woman doesn't have HIV and didn't authorize use of her likeness.

Both fact patterns are the subjects of current litigation, with the plaintiffs bringing causes of action for misappropriation of the right of publicity and/or privacy.

Colorado common law governing torts for appropriation of name or likeness controls the political mailer case. The law requires a plaintiff to prove that: the defendant used the plaintiff's name or likeness; the use was for the defendant's own purposes or benefit, commercially or otherwise; the plaintiff suffered damages; and the defendant caused the damages.

Colorado Law

In a March 31 opinion in Hill v. Public Advocate of the United States, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado granted the defendants' motions to dismiss in relevant part; the defendants are all political advocates. The Hill court stated, "[A] plaintiff will not prevail on [an appropriation claim] if a 'defendant's use of the plaintiff's name and likeness is privileged under the First Amendment.'" But the use of the name and likeness must occur in the context of, and reasonably relate to, a publication concerning a matter that is newsworthy or of legitimate public concern.

The court found that the men's images were used without permission, but the use was not commercial. The use communicated a matter of legitimate public concern and did not issue a call to purchase a product or service. The mailers were sent before an election in a year when gay marriage was a campaign issue. The mailers also went out before Colorado lawmakers enacted the Colorado Civil Union Law, which grants same-sex couples the right to enter into a civil union.

The district court determined that the use of the gentlemen's likeness reasonably related to a matter of legitimate public concern: same-sex marriage. The court's balancing act weighed heavily in favor of free speech based upon the timeliness of the mailers. In the end, the First Amendment trumped the individual right of publicity.

New York Law

Let's revisit the HIV awareness campaign issue. According to the complaint filed on Sept. 18, 2013, in Nolan v. Getty Images (US) Inc., Avril Nolan alleged that a photographer took her picture years ago for an unrelated project. Nolan never signed a release or license with the photographer to use the picture. Subsequently, the photographer licensed the photo to Getty, a worldwide commercial supplier of images. Getty licensed Nolan's picture to the New York State Division of Human Rights to place in the AIDS awareness "I am positive(+)" campaign.

In the March 6 New York trial court opinion, the court stated that New York does not recognize the common law misappropriation torts of privacy or publicity. Instead, the rights and cause of action are statutory. Under New York Civil Right Law §50, an entity "that uses for advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade, the name, portrait or picture of any living person without having first obtained the written consent of such person … is guilty of a misdemeanor."

The trial court denied Getty's motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action on March 6. The court found Getty's action—placing Nolan's image on its website for viewing by potential licensees—met the statutory requirement of "use" within the state.

Questions to Consider

It's unclear to me how Getty's alleged actions violate §50. But what if Nolan had sued the New York State Division of Human Rights? In that scenario, the Colorado federal court's reasoning in Hill might provide insight. Arguably, the HIV awareness campaign communicated a matter of legitimate public concern, so free speech might trump the right of publicity or privacy.

I wonder if, in either case, it would make a difference if the individuals pictured in the likeness allegedly used without authorization had been famous. Would a "commercial nature" begin to arise if it looked as if a famous athlete or actor was opposing gay marriage or supporting HIV awareness? While the tort of misappropriation applies to people who aren't famous, the scales balancing First Amendment and right of publicity might tip differently if the likeness used is well-known.

These cases should remind lawyers to think twice—and perhaps a third time—before posting that next selfie. You just don't know where it might end up.

Tamera H. Bennett is a trademark, copyright and entertainment attorney and mediator practicing law in Texas and Tennessee as president at Bennett Law Office in Lewisville.

*Reprinted with permission from the April 14, 2014 print edition of Texas Lawyer. © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.  Read more: