Even When Trademark Is Done Right, It's Hilarious

from the mascots-gone-rogue dept

Upon searching our site, to my surprise, we’ve actually discussed the intersection of trademark law and sports team mascots in the past. There was the University of Oregon’s duck mascot, who looked a bit too much like Disney’s Donald Duck for the company’s taste, though it ended up dropping its trademark claim. Or there was the time that automaker Dodge went after a high school that copied its logo for their team mascot. While neither case seemed particularly necessary or a good use of anyone’s time, they also lacked the kind of true hilarity that aggressive trademark protection, even when entirely understandable, can produce. For that, you need a company or organization that is so brain-addled from at least a century of successlessness that they’d take a minor trademark dispute and not only go way beyond a reasonable effort to protect its good name, but would also do so with an in-person exchange best suited for a bad comedy movie.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies, for those of you who don’t know this, are one of only a few Major League Baseball teams that don’t have a team mascot. Or, rather, they don’t have an official team mascot. What they had, however, was a weirdo named Jon Paul Weier, who dressed up in a bear suit and team uniform as “Billy Cub” (groan). That is, they had Billy Cub until recently, when the team sent him a 100-page cease-and-desist letter ordering him to suspend all mascotting duties.

Citing allegations of trademark infringement, the League sent Weier a 100-plus page letter, ordering him to stop wearing the Billy Cub costume, and engaging in “unabated Mascot Activities.”

Now, before we all get up in arms about how Weir should be defended from the rich, evil Cubs, let me expand on my earlier indication that Weier is a strange guy. Fans have complained that Billy Cub occasionally enjoys following anyone who snaps a photo of him in public with demands for tips. Also, he sometimes like to use ethnic slurs and foul language. These complaints have commonly come with the indication that Billy Cub is an official team-sanctioned mascot. In other words, this is trademark protection done right.

But being on the right side of intellectual property protection doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t behaving with a silliness more typical of a Monty Python sketch. A 100-page letter? For a jackass in a costume? Oh, and it gets even better.

After consulting with a lawyer, [Weier] ignored it. And the next day, he said he was confronted by a Cubs executive.

“Someone came up to me, very angry, and said, ‘Did you not get our letter?’ ”

Problem was, Weier was in costume and in character at the time. And since Billy doesn’t speak, he says he just stood there, gesturing and shrugging, as the executive in question got angrier.

It’s hard to imagine a scene more funny than a Chicago Cubs executive vociferously arguing with a pantomiming grown man in a bear costume. In the end, yes, Billy Cub should go away, but there has to be a better way to spend Cubs employees’ time than writing novellas to racist bear-men and engaging in one-sided arguments with them to boot.

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Comments on “Even When Trademark Is Done Right, It's Hilarious”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Just about right

for a sport that just recently realized that some of their players just might use performance enhancing drugs. And all the current hand ringing for AROD, please I would guess he just might have saved a few shekels and will be fine. The MLB used AROD and others like him to rebuild the fan base while ignoring drug abuse for many years, now suddenly are outraged that such a thing could occur right under their noses. If he had not been a celebrity and caught with crack cocaine he could have doing a dime hard time. Save your sympathy for someone deserving, maybe Ed Snowden. You don’t need to follow the herd, pick your heroes.

Anon says:

Billy Cub should go away...???

Why? The cubs have no copyright on bear costumes. If they did, I’m sure several other teams would have a say about that. As for the Cubs uniform – I bet on any given Sunday (or any day!) there are thousands of people in the stadium wearing cubs shirts and even complete Cubs player outfits which were… (wait for it!) … sold to them by the Cubs themselves or their official distributors. I bet there are even guys who lift up their shirts to reveal (unauthorized) team logos painted on their bellies, unless Cubs fans are known for their sedate demeanor.

So really, what’s the problem? Is it his bad behaviour? That’s the answer. If he tells fans he’s *the* official mascot (misrepresents status), or harasses them, then he can be given the boot, same as you or I if we were to do so. If he does not, what right do the Cubs have to stop an enthusiastic fan?

The logo issue is not so much ludicrous as ludicrously wrong.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Billy Cub should go away...???

“So really, what’s the problem? Is it his bad behaviour? That’s the answer. If he tells fans he’s the official mascot (misrepresents status), or harasses them, then he can be given the boot, same as you or I if we were to do so. If he does not, what right do the Cubs have to stop an enthusiastic fan?”

Hey, I’m usually all about smacking down aggressive trademark protection, but this guy is in a Bear suit (a cub, in other words), with a jersey and hat and “Billy Cub” splayed across the back. The racist behavior and pressuring people for “tips” when they take a picture would likely be enough to warrant a trademark claim for the team, but the fact that most of the complaints come with the question of why the Cubs would allow an OFFICIAL team mascot to do this kind of thing cement the customer confusion.

This isn’t an enthusiastic fan. He’s out there for the money. Case in point, he’s currently campaigning to be become the team’s official mascot on radio stations…as Billy Cub.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Billy Cub should go away...???

he’s currently campaigning to be become the team’s official mascot on radio stations…as Billy Cub

Ok, now that is funny. What you are telling me is that a character that looks like a bear but does not make any noise is campaigning to be the official mascot on the radio?

Does he come with crickets chirping, or are they extra?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Billy Cub should go away...???

You’re confusing copyright and trademark. Copyright is a matter of owning the distribution of content. There is no claim for that here because Billy Cub is made by Jon Paul Weier, so he would own the copyright for that character.

However trademark (which is the claim here) is about confusing fans into thinking he’s affiliated with the team. If people associate some of the things Billy Cub does with the Cubs baseball club, they could potentially value the Cubs (especially the ballpark experience) less than they already would.

Combine that with the fact that Billy Cub is trying to be the “team’s offical mascot on radio stations” (DH), and him asking people for money and he’s obviously trying to profit off an association with the Cubs.

This is an actual legitimate use of excersizing trademark rights (other than the 100-page C&D) as noted in the article.

IAmNotYourLawyer (profile) says:

Re: Billy Cub should go away...???

  1. The claim is trademark infringement, not copyright. The Cubs logo is certainly trademarked, and the uniform might be.
  2. The essence of a trademark infringement claim is consumer confusion- that is, are people mistakenly attributing the trademark owner as the source or endorser of something. In this case, if people believe “Billy Cub” is the official team mascot, then the Cubs have a decent claim at trademark infringement.
Anonymous Coward says:

Screw Trademark Law

To hell with trademark law, this issue could have easily been handled via private property rights. If the property owner of the stadium doesn’t want an individual on the property, then don’t allow him on the property. It’s as easy as that.

There’s no need to bring in anti-property “law” backd by State force/aggression/violence (or threat thereof), in this case trademark law, to handle the issue.

I prefer consensual relationships and voluntary exchange.

Anin says:

Not trademark

Since they don’t have a bear mascot, or a cute bear-in-a-cubs-uniform logo, how is it trademark confusion/infringement? If the guy is busy campaigning, it’s hard to imagine the average reasonably informed fan being confused, if he’s being bombarded by messages that the Billy Cub ain’t?

(If some guy dressed up as a bell wrapped in a taco, could Taco Bell sue? )

The real problem is misbehaviour. If the terms on the ticket, posted on the wall, and everywhere else don’t say “no soliciting”; if the rules don’t allow them to give obnoxious fans, however dressed, the heave ho for bad behaviour…

Then the problem is not Billy, it’s the fact that a building full of high-paid PR people and lawyers can’t figure out how to get rid of an obnoxious fan.

Considering what lawyers cost, it’s cheaper to pay a security guy to follow Billy and give him the heave-ho on the first sign of harassment; it’s also cheaper to hire some guy to follow Billy around with a sign “Do not feed the bear” and “No affiliation with our club”. You could probably pay a guy to do this for 2 seasons on what it cost to pay a lawyer to write 100 pages.

If expensive PR guys can’t figure out how to kibosh an obnoxious wannabee’s campaign to be official mascot – maybe they are serious losers… oh, wait, it *is* the cubs isn’t it?

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