We 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