"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 December 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Life is Hell


[Patent and Trademarks Office]

It's all fun & games until

the postman forks over the

cease and desist letter. Such is

the pitiable refrain of small

publishers both online and off

as they discover that an

irreverent stance towards

mainstream culture and

institutions may go over far

more swimmingly with the

hipsters than the lawyers. Given

the current cultural climate, in

which litigation is best

appreciated as an ironically

absurd artform - or, at the very

least, as an au courant

spectator sport - we find

ourselves resigned to throwing

our arms up in frustration and

taking a sidelines role as we

observe the battle for brands

build momentum on the Web.


The net's come a long way since

Quittner and Kelly chronicled

the quest to alert McDonald's

to the value of securing

mcdonalds.com. Maybe the

sinister clown and his corporate

henchmen were right to ignore

the warnings - in the end, they

knew their crack legal team

would mop up the gristle. These

days, trademark scofflaws are

receiving swift and merciless

beatdowns from cyber-savvy

attorneys. The litigators will

be quick to point out that it's

their legal imperative to assert

their trademarks if they wish

to maintain ownership of their

intellectual property, but if

you think egregious violation is

a prerequisite to speedy receipt

of the dreaded certified mail -

think again.


The most indefensible crime in

the world of publishing would

seem to be an absence of

financial success. The

punishment accorded to those

unable to fight claims of

infringement is death - in name,

if not identity. But at this

late date, nobody needs to be

reminded that right and wrong

has effectively been superseded

by the relative depths of the

interested parties' legal

budgets. For the sake of

posterity (and cruel sangfroid)

we offer a snapshot of the

state-of-affairs in mark



[Buzz vs. Buzznet]

The case: Buzz vs. Buzznet.

The claim: The Buzznet website

infringes on the trademark of

LA-based Buzz magazine.

The outcome (probable or actual):

Buzznet gets makeover.

Comments: To grasp the absurdity

of Buzz magazine's claim to the

Buzz trademark, do a simple

search on the word "buzz" via

your favorite search engine.

Amusingly enough, the 'net'

suffix is deemed by both Buzz's

and Buzznet's attorney to be a

useless term, while 'buzz'

apparently still means

something. If they weren't both

covering the vague arena of pop

culture, Buzzmag's decidedly

unvague trademark on the name in

conjunction with "a magazine

dealing with the city of Los

Angeles" might carry less legal

weight. Regardless, Buzz brings

in enough revenue to secure the

services of Wilkie Farr &

Gallagher, so Buzznet is in

search of a new name. I'm sure

they'd appreciate any moderately

clever suggestions...


[Matt Groening vs. Bunnyhop]

The case: Matt Groening vs.


The claim: Depiction of Binky on

zine's cover hurtful to copyright.

The outcome (probable or actual):

Destruction of all remaining


Comments: Just when you thought

that the U2 vs. Negativland case

couldn't be beat as a prima

facie example of artistic

hypocrisy, Matt Groening, whose

career can almost be said to be

built upon the masterful use of

cultural appropriation, decides

to take on Bunnyhop for

placing an image of Binky

decking the Trix rabbit on the

cover of their zine. Bunnyhop

clearly made a few mistakes -

making too subtle an artistic

statement, for one, and sending

a copy of their publication to

Groening an infinitely unwise

second. Our suggestions to

Bunnyhop publishers Noel

Tolentino and Seth Robson? Milk

this fiasco for all its worth

and the resulting publicity just

may help you sell enough copies

of your next issue to recoup

your losses on this one.


[Thorazine vs. Thora-zine]

The case: Thorazine vs.


The claim: Title of Texas

underground culture zine a

copyright infringement on Smith

Kline Beecham's swell drug.

The outcome (probable or actual):

Drug maker takes chill pill.

Comments: This one's sufficiently

brain-dead as to make the whole

case a sad pun on itself.


[Wired vs. Wired Again]

The case: Wired vs. Wired Again.

The claim: Radio show host Alex

Bennett's TV show title

infringes on trademark of

digital culture rag.

The outcome (probable or actual):

Renaming of TV show.

Comments: Believe it or not, we

couldn't care less how the

litigious tendencies of our

neighbors across the hall fare -

and would laugh just as hard as

you if they got creamed by some

wily upstart. Unfortunately for

KITS comic/blowhard Alex

Bennett, it ain't gonna be him -

his stab at launching a TV show

called Wired Again, dedicated to

digital culture and technology,

couldn't infringe more on their

brand name if it tried. Remember,

trademark violation cases rest

on the proof that the public is

likely to be confused,

perceiving an association

between two similar but

unrelated entities. Of course,

when your case depends on

proving that some people may be

idiots, you're bound to win.


Most absurd is that a trademark

is supposedly a guarantee of the

quality of goods or services

associated with the brand name.

In the culture industry, though,

it's too often the case that, by

the time an organization can

afford the lawyers to protect a

trademark, the only thing of

value is the name itself, not

the for-hire ramblings of

freelancers who never bothered

to sample the back catalog.

Now, that may not be a fair

criticism - branding isn't

really about delivering a

specific product that might be

subject to unfair competition,

it's about brand advertising.

Through the manipulation of

image and the manufacture of

"lifestyle", brand advertising

sells the product which generates

the revenues to pay the lawyers

to protect the mark of the beast

which is the brand. It's a grownup

game - life is hell. Tricks are

for kids.

courtesy of the Duke of URL