Fighting Over Meatball: Shelter and Activist Fight Over Rights To The Name And Image Of California Black Bear

220px-Canadian_Rockies_-_the_bear_at_Lake_LouiseWe have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). (For a prior column, click here). Now the copyright and trademark hunt has bagged ‘Meatball” a black bear who has been the subject of extensive fundraising to save him from euthanasia. Meatball attracted national attention after breaking into high-end homes to enjoy human delights and to take dips in swimming pools. He got his name from eating frozen Costco meatballs from one home. One of those organizing his rescue, Sarah Aujero, copyrighted the name “Meatball” before helping find a shelter for him. That shelter, however, Lions, Tigers, and Bears wants the copyright proceeds.

Meatball was captured twice and, after an effort to reintroduce him into the wild failed, he was scheduled to be euthansized. However, citizens joined together to arrange the relocation. The shelter however sent Aujero a cease-and-desist letter demanding that she sign over her rights to the name to the shelter as well as her use of a Twitter account, @TheGlendaleBear, under which Aujero tweets as the voice of Meatball. Aujero notes that she has agreed to let the sanctuary use the bear’s name in fundraising but that the shelter wanted it all. There has already been more than $200,000 raised toward the $325,000 habitat for Meatball.

Aujero clearly was successful in her efforts for Meatball and one could excuse her desire to lock in money for that effort.

She has now been barred by the facility from entering on the advice of counsel. The trademark controversy could also ensnare the city of Glendale which wants to feature a likeness on a float of Meatball bouncing on a trash can in the 2014 Tournament of Roses parade to offset its own expenses from the trapping and relocation. Aujero came up with an idea for the city to hold a meatball eating contest.

What is most distressing is that both Aujero and the shelter have done important work to save the bear. However, the ever-expanding trademark and copyright laws have made even public interest advocates more . . . well . . . predatorial or at least territorial. The question remains why a publicly bestowed name on a wild animal should be susceptible to a trademark claim. Congress and the Obama Administration have allowed his insanity to continue to the point that even the use of a wild bear’s image and nickname can be claimed as property. The only entirely redeeming character appears to be the bear who was content with some frozen meatballs.

Source: ABA Journal

11 thoughts on “Fighting Over Meatball: Shelter and Activist Fight Over Rights To The Name And Image Of California Black Bear”

  1. It’s not merely a word that’s being copyrighted, it’s an idea; the word associated with the image or concept of this bear that needs to be housed. We live in a world of where marketing takes place nearly every moment, and words and images not only have value, they have the potential to create it. If an image of the bear and the name “Meatball” can cause an exchange of money or other valuable consideration, then it would be irresponsible not to secure a trademark.

    Hopefully, both parties can agree on using the proceeds for the benefit of the bear and other bears in similar situations. If the woman holding the copyright is only donating a portion of the proceeds to the care of “Meatball”, then perhaps she can be sued for those rights. Based on Christopher Stone’s, “Should Trees Have Standing”, I wonder if the bear doesn’t have rights to the use of his image?

    Doesn’t a person have the right to receive compensation for their image to be used? Didn’t a woman win the patent rights to her own DNA? in California, people have proposed extending rights to pets (and throwing off the shackles of ownership, pretty ridiculous, IMO). But couldn’t a case be made for the bear to receive all the proceeds?

  2. The idea that the word could be copyrighted is insane. I think I should just go through the dictionary now and preemptively copyright every word from a-z.

  3. The homeowner is lucky the bear didn’t get into a Costco sized package of prunes.

  4. Going back to the source article the reference to “a portion of the proceeds” concerns a proposal that she write a children’s book about the bear. There does not appear to be any allegation that funds raised for the bear will not all be used for the bear.

  5. This Sarah Aujero character sounds like a nice person, tweeting to save a bear, but now she viciously holds onto the copyright and will only “donate a portion” of the money she gets for saving the bear to the foundation which is actuually housing and feeding the bear. She is greedy money grubbing pig. Why does she keep money that was donated for the bear when all she did was tweet on a public network?

  6. Sometimes an outrageously stupid application of a statute can highlight the fact that it was a bad idea in the first place.

  7. Like the military NSA and its spying on all things in existence, “the ever-expanding trademark and copyright laws” are doing the opposite of what they are supposed to do.

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