While I sit here refreshing the opinions page for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, let me bring to your attention a couple of interesting intellectual property cases: one new, and one a few weeks old that I meant to write about at the time.
The more recent one is a suit brought by the heirs of John Wayne, otherwise known as “the Duke,” complaining that a certain university in North Carolina keeps suing them when they try to use the name “Duke”:
[U]niversity spokesman Michael Schoenfeld wrote in an email that “the university doesn’t object to the use of ‘Duke’ on alcoholic beverages, as long as it is clearly linked to John Wayne’s likeness.”
However, he wrote, Wayne’s estate wants the rights to use the word with or without the star’s image attached.
“While we admire and respect John Wayne’s contributions to American culture, we are also committed to protecting the integrity of Duke University’s trademarks,” Schoenfeld wrote in a statement.
“As Mr. Wayne himself said,” the statement continues, ” ‘Words are what men live by … words they say and mean.’ ”
Richard Howell, John Wayne Enterprises’ attorney, disputed Schoenfeld’s assessment.
Howell said that the company has proposed “over and over” a truce of sorts: A co-use agreement wherein the company will only use the name ‘Duke’ in connection with John Wayne’s name, image or likeness.
I come down on the side of the Duke with this one — partially because I hate universities, partially because I don’t like lawsuits. But let’s assume these two spokesmen are telling the truth. The Duke’s legatees want to use the nickname “in connection with John Wayne’s name, image or likeness” and the university wants to limit it to situations where it is “clearly linked to John Wayne’s likeness.” It sounds like the university wants to ban any mention of the Duke’s nickname without an “image” attached — even if John Wayne’s name is used. Bollocks. Patterico hereby enters judgment in the court of public opinion in favor of the Duke’s legatees, and orders the president of that university to go soak his head.
The second lawsuit is several weeks old, but I have been meaning to blog it for a while. It’s the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the estate of Randy California against Led Zeppelin, for copying material from the Spirit song “Taurus” in the far more famous “Stairway to Heaven.” I told you about this musical similarity in June 2013, saying: “Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit early in their careers, and heard this song live. You will not have to listen closely to hear the inspiration for Stairway to Heaven.”
In May of this year, California’s estate filed suit, in anticipation of a monster re-released of the Zeppelin catalog.
I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, if you listen to the piece, it’s pretty clear they ripped off part of California’s piece — and the fact that they were touring with Spirit at the time just solidifies the conclusion that you would have come to anyway regarding the similarities. It would have been nice for them to credit California and give him a piece of the royalties. And, as I say, I pointed out the similarities last year, long before the lawsuit — so it’s clearly not a made-up claim. (Do any of the lawyers read this blog?)
That being said, California himself never filed suit. And in “Stairway to Heaven,” while Zeppelin took some of California’s music, the more famous band also transformed the germ of that idea into something quite different, taken as a whole. Patterico reluctantly hereby enters judgment for defendant in the court of public opinion, but awards no costs — and encourages Led Zeppelin to give California his writing credit anyway.
P.S. During the writing of this post, I continued to refresh that first link, and (although I could be wrong) it appears there will be no Halbig decision today. There are four new opinions in other cases; it looks like that might do it for the day.