The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is somewhat infamous for its constant trademark bullying over the famed Hollywood sign (you know the one). Its latest target is apparently the Hollywood Babble-On podcast that is done as a live show each week by radio/podcast guy Ralph Garman and filmmaker/entertainer Kevin Smith. Before the show this past weekend, Garman had tweeted out that it might be the last Hollywood Babble-On ever. In the opening minutes of their latest episode, Garman explains that they’ve received a cease and desist letter from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce “re: unauthorized use of Hollywood stylized mark and Hollywood Walk of Fame mark.”
While I haven’t seen the full cease-and-desist letter, from what Garman said on the podcast, the issue is so ridiculous that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce should be called out for blatant trademark bullying. You see, while this is the normal logo/image promoting the podcast:
At times, they’ve used other images, such as this one:
It’s that image that is apparently part of the problem (even though it’s not clear how often it was used). The Chamber of Commerce is using the Hollywood style lettering, which is an approximation of the famous Hollywood sign, and the star behind their heads (which it apparently believes is an implied reference to the stars on Hollywood’s walk of fame), to argue that this is unauthorized use of their marks. Some trademark lawyers will likely disagree, but this seems like classic trademark bullying.
If you’re unfamiliar with the podcast (and I’ll confess to being a loyal listener from Episode 1 through the latest, and got to see the show once live at Kevin’s invitation after he was on our podcast a few years ago), it’s a fun (frequently not safe for work) show looking at some highlights from the week’s entertainment news, mixed in with a series of re-occurring bits, frequently involving Garman’s rotating cast of impressions. In short, it’s two funny guys, who are both in show business and have been for many years, goofing off talking about show business, frequently mocking some of the crazier news stories coming out of that business.
In other words, there’s no way in hell that anyone in their right mind thinks that this podcast is officially sanctioned by “Hollywood” as some sort of official Hollywood product. The whole thing is kind of gently mocking some of Hollywood’s sillier foibles. Indeed, this seems like a perfect use case for the old standby in trademark law: the “moron in a hurry” test. And, to make it more relevant to the hobbies of choice of Ralph and Kevin, I think it could be argued that neither a drunk, nor a stoned “moron in a hurry” would ever face even the slightest “likelihood of confusion” that Hollywood somehow had endorsed the podcast, just because it briefly had images showing slightly askew letters and a star.
It remains one of the more frustrating aspects of trademark law that so many people believe that it means you get total control over the marks in question. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. It’s only in cases where there is a likelihood of confusion that people would be confused and believe that the mark holder is behind (or otherwise endorses) the products and services in question. And here, that seems pretty difficult to believe. Of course, rather than fight these kinds of things out, it’s frequently much easier to just pay up, which may be what the lawyers for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce are banking on.
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