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Bogart and Brando Estates Have Been Busy: So Many Lawsuits, So Little Time

By October 13, 2012Celebrity Estates

Many celebrity estates take great care to protect the intellectual property, name, image and likeness of the deceased celebrity in order to ensure permission is sought, granted and, generally, paid for.  The estates of Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando are no exception.

Within the past few months, the estate of Humphrey Bogart has sued two major companies regarding the use of Bogart’s name or image.  Celebrity estates generally protect the intellectual property, name, image and likeness of the celebrity in order to ensure permission is sought, granted and, generally, paid for.  In an effort to protect the use of Bogart’s name and image, the estate has been involved in lawsuits with Burberry and Ashley Furniture.

Burberry, a high end British fashion company, is being sued by the Bogart estate for their use of a well-known image of Bogart in a Burberry trenchcoat from the final scene of the Oscar-winning film Casablanca.  This image was used in a promotion that Burberry did on their social network sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.  The Bogart estate claims that this is a misrepresentation and an abuse of intellectual property.  However, Burberry did not agree and filed a counter suit against the Bogart estate.

Burberry claims that its use of the image was intended to reflect the long history and significance of its products on society.  They assure that the image was fairly purchased from photography agency Corbis for advertising use.  They stated that the “use of the image was not directly connected to the sale of any merchandise, but rather was a historical positioning of the image within an educational project along with numerous other photographs.”

While this lawsuit continues, the Bogart estate has also filed suit against Ashley Furniture for the use of the name “Bogart Blue.”  Bogart Blue is the name that goes with a sofa that Ashley Furniture has been marketing.  The Bogart estate claims that the use of the Bogart name is a trademark and Ashley Furniture did not receive permission to use it.  However, Ashley Furniture states that the name has nothing to do with the famous actor and was chosen based upon the city Bogart, Georgia and was pulled from a list of publicly available names which included parks, rivers, lakes, cities and streets.  They state that the “blue” is based on the actual color of the sofa.  While the court is allowing the proceeding to continue, the Bogart estate will have to prove that the use of the name diluted trademarks or publicity rights, or was a deceptive trade practice.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a lawsuit of this nature has been filed against Ashley Furniture.  In fact, just a few months ago a case was settled between Ashley Furniture and Brando Enterprises, the company that controls the Marlon Brando estate.  Ashley Furniture had used the Brando name to define a number of couches.  In this situation, the court sided with the estate and Ashley Furniture had to pay $356,000 in damages.  Brando Enterprises was happy with the outcome, hoping that it would teach others that if they choose to infringe upon the actor’s image and name, they will be held accountable.  In fact, like the Bogart estate, Brando Enterprises has been eagerly pursuing those using the name or image of the celebrity.  Just last year, Brando Enterprises also filed suit against Harley Davidson Motor Company for a line of boots referred to as “The Brando.”

About Morris Hall:
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This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.

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