Law Firm Pulls Commercial Parody of Geico and Allstate After Receiving Threats From Companies

250px-Gecko_foot_on_glass240px-Stop_hand_nuvola.svgMy opposition to the ever-expanding trademark and copyright laws is well known. (For a prior column, click here). Common phrases and symbols are being snatched up as Congress and the Obama Administration continue to yield to every demand for higher levels of penalties and prosecutions. Now we have a personal injury firm — Geoff McDonald & Associates — that has knuckled under to a threat from GEICO insurance because it used an obvious (and stated) parody in a commercial. This is an office filled with attorneys and yet they pulled the commercial because of an obvious joke. If they cannot stand up to the copyright and trademark hawks, consider the position of average citizens faced with threatening letters. Even other insurance companies have folded under pressure from GEICO in parody commercials. It is not clear if GEICO will now move against zoos and elementary schools who try to feature geckos. Before I am sued by the lawyers at GEICO, the picture to the left is a body part of a common gecko found in the wild. He has no connection to the insurance company and is not meant to mock it in any way.

The commercial below starts with an express statement that “what follows is a small parody of big insurance.” Clearly, the law firm anticipated the issue, but they withdrew the commercial. Moreover, the firm’s general counsel, Jimmy Bewley, will not discuss the “settlement” with GEICO.

In the commercial, the gecko enters the law firm with a bag over his head regarding a car accident and explains the bag by saying “Let’s just say the people I work for would hate to see me here.” The law firm also parodied the “Mayhem” character used by Allstate Insurance. The firm admits that “pretty much the exact same thing happened. We made a settlement with them, too.”

Why? This is parody and should an exercise of free speech. Indeed, the free speech issue surrounding the power of insurance companies is combined in this case with an issue of legal advocacy. If anything, the law firm has undermined those principles by yielding to these threats. The problem is that the Congress and the courts have royally fouled up this area. The greatest example of the lunacy is found in 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 for over a couch simply named Bogart. California-retailer Plummers settled the lawsuit last year.

Part of the problem is that we have a large number of law firms on retainer to bring these actions and artists and companies that do little to limit them. The greatest problem is the success of this lobby in getting Congress and the Obama Administration to push through virtually any legislation that they demand — criminalizing violations, approving warrantless searches, and allowing for obscene awards.

There is no reason why a law firm cannot parody insurance companies in my view. However, they have to be willing to litigate the matter and the principle does not appear as compelling as the parody for this law firm.

Source: ABA Journal

16 thoughts on “Law Firm Pulls Commercial Parody of Geico and Allstate After Receiving Threats From Companies”

  1. the good news imo about this type of bs is that the people meaning us the mortals will stop buying the products of said companies because of their arrogance of suits like this and will stop using law firms like the above for the same reasons. if they cower a law firm over a commerical. what exactly can they do for me in litigation

  2. Maybe the digs owner could sue Geico for the ad upsetting the dog, emotional infliction of pain

  3. So… lawyers suing lawyers over an advertisement about lawyers. That’s gotta be a trifecta of some sort.

  4. It was an interesting ad, but I don’t understand how any company can claim that any use of a Gecko is prohibited. what if they used a chameleon would that be a violation too?

  5. I remain in league with Shakespeare regarding most of the legal profession – yourself excepted Professor.

  6. That’s a good ad, but the question is whether commercial advertisements can claim the parody exemption? It’s not an artwork. It’s an advertisement that uses other company’s trademarks. That’s probably why they conclude they wouldn’t win a court case.

  7. Yeah, I’m shocked a plaintiff’s firm didn’t take the righteous action and stand up to the big, bad, insurance company! It’s about money for chrissake. You watch too many moves and read too many Grisham books. I’ve worked both sides, there are few heroes on either side of personal injury work. There are the plaintiff’s attorneys who act as the sales force for civil litigation, bringing in clients for the other attorneys billing insurance companies by the hour. When they say it’s not about the money, well…it’s about the money.

  8. Geico is an acronym for Government Employees Insurance Company. I did some work for them. They are in the upper stanine of jerk insurance companies.

  9. That was a very good commercial, but after reading that the firm caved in. I would hesitate to use them. If they buckle to a threat of suit, then could they really fight for you in a damage suit against the same company. The trademark and copyright situation has grown ludicrous and I see it as a restraint of free speech, from a different direction. It should be a matter of right to be able to legitimately parody corporations adds. The next step would preclude all criticism of corporate activities using merely their names.

  10. Didn’t weird al get the ok to parody songs….. What’s the real difference between this and that….. Except insurance companies have the biggest pimps in tow….

    Read somewhere Geico pay over a billion in advertising a year…..hmmmmm……

  11. Principle yields to money, I presume they think it would cost them more to litigate than to settle, their disclaimer failed to prevent litigation and the ad isn’t perceived as generating enough excess sales to pay for the litigation: So (Colbert-style, flail at the adding machine for a few seconds then read the tape): Settle.

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