Matlock Needs CLE on IP

Andy%20Griffith%20wallpaper.jpgThe Washington Post has a story today about Andy Griffith suing a man who changed his name to Andy Griffith to run for sheriff. According to the Post (but one can never be sure because the press is always confusing IP laws), the famous Griffith is suing for trademark, copyright and right of privacy violations. Bad reporting or bad lawyering I say. Can’t see that any copyrights are involved. As to right of privacy, publicity seems a better choice. Privacy laws usually are more exacting in their requirement of use in advertising. But even right of publicity mandates commercial misappropriation. Assuming the candidate was advertising his candidacy and soliciting campaign contributions, does this use meet either threshold? Since his advertisements are not for a commercial venture and since his solicitation is not commercial in nature, I say no. This issue of whether or not a defendant’s use a trademark must be used commercially is currently hotly contested, with my vote and slightly more authority suggesting such a requirement. The one strong point the plaintiff has is the fact of a trademark in his name. I never did understand why a show about a sheriff named Andy Taylor was called “The Andy Griffith Show,” perhaps Griffith had prescient trademark lawyers at the time.

The Griffith formerly known as William Harold Fenrick admitted that he legally adopted the new name to create publicity to aid his race. The best laid plans…he came in third. Curiously, Andy of Mayberry in addition to damages and fees, is also asking the court to order the defendant’s name change. A court ordered “Opie” would sure send a message to would-be pirate sherrifs. Remedies experts, please weigh in.

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2 Responses

  1. Copyright law could be implicated, but it’s a stretch. There are cases out there that protect the “characters” of a story – I’m thinking of Rocky. This is the branch of copyright that might apply to fan fiction.

    The rub here is:

    1. As noted, the “character” is Andy Taylor, not Andy Griffith;

    2. The “new” Andy Griffith is running for Sheriff in real life, not in a “copied story” (though perhaps some of the sheriff ads might be implicated); and

    3. Does Andy Griffith personally own the copyright to all of the Andy Griffith show scripts and/or shows?

    Even though it is a longshot, I wouldn’t call it bad lawyering – I would call it creative lawyering.

  2. arthur says:

    There was an approximately similar case a few years ago where Kareen Abdul-Jabbar sued the younger professional football player Karim Abdul-Jabbar. Karim claimed that he took the name for religious, not marketing reasons (Kareem had also adopted the name as an adult). the case settled when Karim agreed not to market products with the name “Abdul-Jabbar.”