My Favorite Color is Camo. Five words that send a self-depreciating, humorous message about the speaker, his lifestyle, his worldview, and possibly whether he might end up a defendant in a lawsuit. Si Robertson of the A&E show Duck Dynasty said those same five words on the show, and the marketing department launched an entire sub-line of merchandise featuring the quote. To paraphrase Mel Brooks in “Spaceballs,” the real money is in Moichandising!
A&E knows how to spin off tie-in merchandise like nobody’s business, but now a Florida company is suing A&E, et al. for violating a trademark the company alleges it registered a year before show began airing. Of course, the plaintiff wants A&E to stop selling the products with the five dirty words and pay damages.
The two main claims of the plaintiff boil down to 1) A&E is using their massive market penetration, brand recognition, and existing distribution network to unfairly benefit from something we created (which is lawsuit talk for “you are making the money that should be in my pocket”) and 2) because Duck Dynasty is so overwhelmingly well-known, everybody thinks we are ripping you off (more lawsuit talk meaning “you make us look like the plagiarists”). I will go out on a limb to say if the plaintiff can produce proof of trademark, this can all be settled with a modest cut from the A&E Moichandising Pie.
The interesting part to me is how these five words that only make sense in two or three combinations can represent a federal lawsuit. I understand the concept of trademark and brand dilution, but I don’t see how the juggernaut that is Duck Dynasty is doing anything other than boosting the bottom line of the plaintiff. I should be so lucky to have this happen to me. As proof, I ask: “Have you ever heard of the plaintiff before today?”
And on a related topic, in my mind this is essentially a plagiarism beef. The difference being the length of words lifted and whether the words were appropriated from a person or business entity. Plagiarism is easy. Trademark is a bit tougher because it involves exceedingly short strings of words that are pretty easy to unintentionally string together, or as is likely in this case, repeating without intent to appropriate.
So, I have a deal for the producers of Duck Dynasty and the marketing folks at A&E. In my early days as a writer, I sold several slogans, which is what the industry calls the phrases on bumper stickers, buttons, refrigerator magnets, etc. I still have a whole mess of them that never sold because the companies only had so much money to spend on content. I am perfectly willing to let ‘Ol Uncle Si blurt some out during interviews. I’ll start with one I just came up with.
“I don’t mind being plagiarized as long as I get credit.”
So get to work, guys. While I’m waiting for the check to arrive, I’m going to get working on Carlos Cunha the Flamethrower.