Paramount Pictures Goes After The Codfather Fish Shop Over A Fish That Looks Like Marlon Brando

from the it's-just-business dept

Before I started paying attention to trademark issues as a part-time living, I’m pretty sure I would have thought that it would take quite a bit to get a big company’s lawyers firing off threat letters and legal actions. You know, like an actual threat, or a violation of trademark that had been brought to the company’s attention by confused members of the public. Instead, it too often appears that the lawyers for large companies scour the world for any-might-be-possible trademark issue that can be acted upon, like a schizophrenic pouring over the newspapers in search of that secret code the government is using to control our minds.

How else do you explain when Paramount Pictures decides to fire off a cease and desist letter to The Codfather Takeaways fish and chips restaurant in New Zealand because their sign includes a cartoon fish that resembles Marlon Brando?

As part of its signage, The Codfather Takeaways has adopted Brando’s Don Corleone character in the style of a fish. Paramount, owner of the trademark The Godfather, is not impressed and through lawyers has instructed the shop to stop. But Danielle Stuart, co-owner of The Codfather, reckons Paramount is being mean spirited and says both the name and insignia are staying. Stuart was in the final stages of registering The Codfather trademark when she received a letter from Paramount Pictures’ lawyers opposing the application and also asking them to stop using “The Godfather stylisation”.

You can see the signage in the background of this picture of the owners.

When asked, the owners admit to the inspiration the film provided for the name and the signage, but say they’re confused why Paramount is targeting them because they sell goddamn fish and not movies.

Stuart said she could understand Paramount being grumpy if she was planning to open a world-wide chain of Codfather Takeaways, but she was not.

“We are just a little fish and chip shop in a small corner of the world.”

Not small enough, my dear, because the beautiful minds at Paramount are always searching for any violation. Now, there are a couple issues here. First, nobody anywhere at any time is going to think a New Zealand fish and chips shop is somehow affiliated with a Hollywood movie studio. Sorry, ain’t gonna happen. Second, I defy anyone to draw a fish without it looking like Marlon Brando. It can’t be done.

And finally, why the hell is Paramount bothering with this to begin with? There are any number of restaurants and chains called “The Codfather.” A fish that looks like Brando really makes this one a priority?

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Companies: codfather takeaway, paramount, viacom

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Comments on “Paramount Pictures Goes After The Codfather Fish Shop Over A Fish That Looks Like Marlon Brando”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

To answer the question...

And finally, why the hell is Paramount bothering with this to begin with? There are any number of restaurants and chains called “The Codfather.”

You quoted the answer:

Stuart was in the final stages of registering The Codfather trademark

.

The answer is, because: trademark law.

Trademarks have to be defended, or they go up in a puff of smoke. I bet you’ll find that Paramount holds the trademark on The Godfather, and that they use it not just in movies, but in merchandise, including merchandise distributed through restaurant chains.

Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the reason. If they hadn’t applied for the mark, Paramount likely would have ignored them. And it raises the question: if there are any number of Codfathers out there, how on earth can this “small single restaurant” feel justified in claiming the mark for themselves? It’s not just Paramount being silly here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To answer the question...

But where did they apply for the trademark, New Zealand probably? Why the hell would an American company care if a Kiwi-land company registers a trademark with it’s own government… not like they are competing in the same market or the Trademark jurisdiction overlaps… right?

That’s what I don’t understand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To answer the question...

Couldn’t Paramount have just sent out the C&D as required, then called it off a week later? Alternatively, wouldn’t negotiation (in their favor) count as “defending”? While trademark law does have defend or die rules, I’ve never heard anyone necessarily say the defense has to stick/”no backsies”, or that negotiating after the fact isn’t allowed.

David says:

Re: To answer the question...

Why would Paramount even apply for a trademark for a generic term like “Godfather”?

Fun fact: I live in a small town in Germany. There is a town-run youth cafe called “Yahoo”. They even used the original red Yahoo! logo (IIRC with permission when Yahoo! was just a small startup: the cafe started in 1997) because they liked it and before Marissa Mayer messed with it (the logo, no idea about the trademark enforcement): the logos have diverged now.

And without the logo similarity, any trademark to “Yahoo” would belong to Jonathan Swift anyway and would long have expired.

But it did strike me as a sort of anachronism in all this current trademark madness that some backwater cafe shared a logo for at least a decade with Yahoo! without more of a justification than “oh, they liked it and asked for permission to use it”. It was probably cool with the original founders when the company was small, and I could believe it to have been kept under the radar as an inside joke by the responsible contacts when the company exploded in size and the leadership changed.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: To answer the question...

“Trademarks have to be defended, or they go up in a puff of smoke.”

This is often an overstated thing. It is not true that every instance of perceived infringement must be attacked in order to keep the trademark. Also, I’m not familiar with Australian trademark law, but in the US this would not be a slam-dunk case of infringement.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it is infringement and Paramount must do something about it or lose their trademark. There’s a MUCH better way to do this: offer the restaurant a license for $1. Problem solved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Apple vs Apfelkind

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/07/apfelkind-cafe-trademark-battle-apple-germany

Given that, then if you are a restaurant aka in an industry that has nothing to do with the original product then from this case it seems to be safe to keep going.

One thing that people should remember is that companies only have a trademark on certain areas. F.e. if they don’t have a trademark on cars then I’d be free to create a car called the GODFATHER 1, 2, 3 ot 99 with a freaking Brando head as sign.

David says:

Frankly,

if anybody should have a case here it should be Brando’s next of kin (not the legal heirs but those having ties with the person). Depending on their sensitivities they might object to have their father’s caricature flaunting fish. Not that “have case” automatically amounts to “win a case”.

But Paramount? Go away. A trademark on “Godfather”? Do they also have a trademark on “Fish”?

Sunhawk says:

I would note that trademark lawyers *do* have an incentive to find as many potential violations as possible.

They get paid just about regardless of the outcome of a suit or a settlement, after all – and the more cases they run for a client, the more necessary they (and their fees) appear to be.

And with the financial imbalance between a large company and a small outfit is sufficient that regardless of the merits, its quite likely the smaller party will just give in.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Licensee Complaints.

I expect that Paramount probably has a licensing agreement with a certain American pizza chain, and part of the contract is not to grant additional licenses in ways which would create market confusion, or otherwise prejudice the licensee’s business. Said pizza chain is probably the cause of the trademark complaint. They called up Paramount, and said, “do something about this!”

A certain American pizza chain, of course, wants to retain the possibility of selling other kinds of food to its satisfied customers. It may even decide that a particular store does not work as a pizza restaurant, and decide to convert it into a fish and chips shop. It is not prima facie absurd to think that a “Codfather” store is run by said chain, and that the chain makes itself responsible for any cases of food poisoning which may ensue from the “Codfather” store.

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