Harley-Davidson Motor Company is facing a tort action over its use of the name “Brando” for a new line of boots resembling the boots worn by actor Marlon Brando in the 1953 classic The Wild One. Brando Enterprises says that the boot constitutes the appropriation of name or likeness of Brando.
While you can’t defame the dead (which means you can defame them), the name and likeness of a deceased person remains protected. However, this means that people can be barred from using cultural icons and terms. I have long been a critic of the extent to which this tort has been pushed, particularly by California courts. Past tort cases have generally favored celebrities and resulted in rulings like White v. Samsung, a perfectly ludicrous ruling where Vanna White successfully sued over the use of a robot with a blond wig turning cards as the appropriation of her name or likeness. The estate of Humphrey Bogart sued last year for over a couch simply named Bogart. California-retailer Plummers settled the lawsuit this week.
Harley Davidson has been criticized in the past for its aggressive lawsuits in copyright and trademark. For example, it sued over a claimed trademark to the term “hog.” It then tried to trademark the sound of a Harley.
By the way, Brando drove a Triumph in the movie.