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San Francisco California Intellectual Property Law Blog

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Temporary restraining order issued for return of stolen domain name

Nowadays, your URL is as big a part of your business branding as are company and product names. Domain name protection is a fast-growing area of intellectual property law as the threats to domain names - which trademark often protects - are real and aggressive. A recent federal case in Florida illustrates one legal remedy that can help protect a victim of domain name cybertheft.

An internet-based auto parts export company successfully went to court to request a temporary restraining order, or TRO, that the defendant transfer the plaintiff's stolen domain name back to the correct registry account from a Russian registrar that the thief had used, according to Domain Name Wire.

Guitar companies fly into dispute over instrument shapes

Some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll history have played Gibson's distinctive Flying V guitar, including Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Pete Townshend of the Who, Johnny Winter, Paul Stanley of Kiss and many more. The electric instrument looks just like its name: its narrow, V-shaped body was considered futuristic when it was initially released in 1958.

Earlier this year, Gibson filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the parent company of Dean Guitars and Luna Guitars. Gibson alleges that Armadillo Enterprises, Dean and Luna are also engaged in trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and trademark dilution.

Radio station sued for $1.5 B for failing to pay to play songs

Making it as a songwriter is no easy task. Once a song becomes famous, artists rely on earnings from continued use of the songs, often on the radio. Radio stations who fail to pay artists for the use of their songs can face legal ramifications.

A current lawsuit provides an example.

Trademarks: SCOTUS asked to decide if BOOKING.COM is not generic

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, known as the USPTO, filed a petition in July with the U.S. Supreme Court. The agency is asking the high court to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The appeals court held that while "booking" is a generic term and ".com" a generic domain designation, the combination of two generic terms into one domain name as BOOKING.COM makes the combined term nongeneric for trademark purposes.

BOOKING.COM is the online website that sells hotel reservations to the public.

It makes us wonder, will "Stairway to Heaven" lead to a new trial?

Since 2014, Led Zeppelin and Michael Skidmore, trustee of the trust that owns rights in a song by a deceased musician, have been fighting in court about whether Zepp's iconic "Stairway to Heaven" infringes on the copyright for "Taurus." As we described in this space last year, the deceased writer of "Taurus" was Randy Wolfe, member of the 1960's band Spirit, which enlisted Led Zeppelin as an opening act before Zeppelin had made it big.

Skidmore alleges that Led Zeppelin's band members (specifically Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) had the opportunity to hear "Taurus" during those joint concerts and that the opening riffs of both songs are substantially similar enough to show that Zeppelin infringed on Spirit's copyright.

Trademark dispute pits power couple against wedding planner

No married couple in history has sold more musical recordings than Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter and her husband Shawn Corey Carter, better known professionally as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, of course. The California residents' twins were born in the state, though their eldest daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, was born in New York in January of 2012.

The 7-year-old is the focus of intellectual property litigation with her parents on one side and the owner of a wedding planning business called Blue Ivy on the other.

Skyline photo copyright infringement claim crashes in court

When you look at San Francisco’s skyline, you can immediately pick out the iconic Transamerica Pyramid, Salesforce Tower, 181 Fremont, California Center and other architectural landmarks. While the skyline of Indianapolis is not as well-known as ours, it is undoubtedly just as cherished to those who live there.

A photograph of the Indianapolis skyline was recent at the center of a copyright infringement lawsuit heard by a federal jury in Indiana’s largest city. The jury decided that the man who claimed his photo of the skyline was used illegally countless times does not actually own the photograph.

A lesson from another photo copyright claim against Scholastic

In January, we wrote about a copyright infringement case in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California that survived a motion to dismiss some of the claims because the court found that the photographer-plaintiff Peter Menzel alleged facts sufficient to allow his case against publisher Scholastic to proceed to trial. As we explained, the photographer alleged that Scholastic's use of his pictures exceeded the limits of a license the photographer had granted to the publisher.

Menzel's copyright infringement complaint contained specific details about how he believed the license had been violated. He provided allegations about the uses of pictures not covered by the license, the reproduction of some photos after license expiration, their publication online when only licensed for paper use and their reproduction more times than licensed.

California law would let college athletes sell their images and names

At our law firm, we represent people who are fighting to protect their exclusive right to use their persona commercially under state right-of-publicity law. The law encompasses an individual's right to use their own "name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness" for business purposes.

We also defend people, businesses and organizations against suits accusing them of violating someone else's right-of-publicity by wrongly using their personas.

Patagonia trademark suit against Anheuser-Busch not dismissed

On Sept. 3, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California refused to dismiss five claims in an April trademark lawsuit brought by Patagonia, the retailer of environmental and outdoor fame, against giant brewer Anheuser-Busch over its beer named Patagonia. This left all eight of Patagonia's causes of action still standing and awaiting resolution through settlement or trial.

Patagonia, based in California, is a retail company specializing in outdoor clothing and gear and known for its environmental advocacy. Patagonia Provisions is a related company that sells food and beer.

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