Following Coverage Of Trademark Dispute, Lawyer Demands Image On News Story Be Taken Down As Infringing

from the no-it-isn't dept

There must be something in the air to do with tacos these days. On the heels of our post about the silly efforts chain Taco John's is undertaking to retain sole trademark ownership of the ubiquitous "Taco Tuesdays" phrase, we have another trademark dispute involving everyone's favorite hispanic delicacy. In this instance, however, the focus of this post won't be on the dispute between the two restaurants, but we can start there anyway.

A Vermont business that is only a few months old is changing its name following a cease and desist notice from another restaurant group clear across the country.

The owner of a 10-week-old taco business said he'll change its name after a California-based restaurant's lawyer claimed it infringes on theirs. Tito Garza, 29, of Brattleboro, received a cease-and-desist notice last week from a Los Angeles trademark lawyer demanding he stop using the name, Tito's Tacos of Vermont.

The lawyer, Greg Victoroff of Greg Victoroff & Associates, said "Tito's Tacos is the exclusive registered trademark of Tito's Tacos Mexican restaurant in Culver City, California."

Garza said he doesn't have the resources to tangle with a law firm in California, so he'll change the name of his venture, though he hasn't decided what yet.

So, yeah, that's annoying. A guy can't name his restaurant after himself because of a trademark owned by another company clear across the nation. We could spend some time discussing whether there is any actual customer confusion to be had here, or whether or not a trademark consisting of a common name and a common food was worthy of such protection. But, instead, let's focus on the other part of this trademark dispute.

It seems that the lawyers for the Tito's Tacos in California are a bit confused as to how trademark law works in conjunction with the basic federal laws governing how the press operates. The link above comes from the Brattleboro Reformer, a news group focusing on local news in Vermont. By reporting previously about a local food festival, and including images of Tito Garza selling his tacos at it, the lawyer for Tito's Tacos seems to think it too has violated his client's trademark rights.

Meanwhile, Victoroff also has requested that the Brattleboro Reformer remove from its website a picture of Garza selling tacos at the Brattleboro BaconFest because his Tito's Tacos banner hangs in the background. The photo, taken on Saturday, Sept. 17, also was the main image on the front page of the Monday, Sept. 19, Reformer.

"The news story and photograph appearing at [the Reformer's website] ... is infringing the Tito's Tacos trademark by displaying and distributing content referring to a food vendor named Tito Garza using the Tito's Tacos trademark in Brattleboro, Vermont, and elsewhere in violation of state and federal trademark law," Victoroff wrote in an email to the Reformer.

Nothing about that is remotely correct. To start with, the news group can simply shout "fair use!" and walk away from the threat, because news organizations have a longstanding right to include images of the subjects on which they report. Imagine if, in an age where media is dominated by the image, a company could demand takedown of any trademark-related images in this manner. Reporting would breakdown entirely, particularly on television. Add to that that the one allegedly violating the trademark in question is Tito Garza, not the news group, and one wonders how this threat could get any dumber.

Unsurprisingly, The Reformer has declined to remove the image.

"The photo in question depicts a local food vendor whose sign identifies his business as Tito's Tacos," wrote Rutberg. "While this use of the name Tito's Tacos may indeed infringe on your client's registered trademark, it is our opinion that the photo in question does not constitute an infringement of your client's trademark. At best it is a 'fair use' of trademarked material."

Rather than accept this lesson and lick his wounds, Victoroff actually responded by insisting the paper was wrong and again demanding the image be taken down. It hasn't been, of course.

One wonders if this ignorance of the law might give Tito Garza pause as to whether this is a fight he can win.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 4:36pm

    Time to add another to the tally shall we?

    Looks like yet another group that either doesn't know that 'Fair Use' exists, knows it exists but hopes they can bluff the other person into thinking otherwise, or doesn't think that reporting qualifies.

    Given they doubled down on the threat after being told off the first time might be time to bring out the classics in the form of an 'Arkell v. Pressdram' style response.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 4:37pm

    Wow... you think he would know better

    I couldn't help but wonder if this was a lawyer. Or some shady outfit hired to enforce trademarks and copyrights.

    He is a real lawyer.
    http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Member/Detail/89688

    However, he specializes in IP law. And he has been a Cal lawyer since 1979. That is a very senior lawyer with over 35 years of experience. You would think that someone who has been in this game this long would know better.

    So.... I'm thinking that some newby associate, or even a clerk in his office, is making these claims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 4:50pm

      Re: Wow... you think he would know better

      Not necessarily, working as a lawyer for that long I imagine bluffs and threats are practically second nature by this point, especially given the absolutely insane 'stick' copyright/patent/trademark gives you to beat someone over the head with in the form of monetary fines or intentional or even accidental infringement.

      When you know that going to court is an expensive undertaking, win or lose, and you know that your target almost certainly can't afford to fight back, either because they simply don't have the money or because they can't risk the bank-breaking fines that are in the wings should the case go against them, bluffs and empty threats become the weapon of choice. Minimal effort, maximum result.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 9:40pm

        Re: Re: Wow... you think he would know better

        I imagine bluffs and threats are practically second nature by this point
        State Bar of California: Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 3-200 Prohibited Objectives of Employment
        A member shall not seek, accept, or continue employment if the member knows or should know that the objective of such employment is:
        (A) To bring an action, conduct a defense, assert a position in litigation, or take an appeal, without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person; or
        (B)  . . .
        You imagine that this rule is never, ever enforced, and thus amounts to utter and complete bullshit?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 10:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: Wow... you think he would know better

          Two different ways I could answer that I suppose.

          1) Never? No. To any extent that any lawyer would ever consider it a credible issue and change their actions because of it? Yes.

          Witness for example the fact that it took years for any of the Prenda lot to face any sort of punishment from the various Bars(assuming they even have been, Hansmeier for example seems to have been 'dis-barred' by the Minnesota Supreme Court, no idea if that 'counts' offhand), despite all their 'courtroom shenanigans'. Unless the california bar is much, much better at policing lawyers within their 'jurisdiction', or the california bar sets much higher standards for lawyers I'd say it's pretty clear that lawyers have a hefty amount of 'wiggle room' to work with such that 'accidentally over-stating your client's position' or 'forgetting a particular bit of law' wouldn't even be considered worth mentioning to them.

          2) As a sleazy lawyer might say, 'define harassing'. Does sending out a legal letter wherein your position might not be quite as rock solid as you present it as count as 'harassing'? How about sending out a letter 'advising' the recipient that they're welcome to bring the matter to court... but win or lose the costs to do so are likely to bankrupt them anyway, is that a 'friendly warning', 'harassment', or neither?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2016 @ 8:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Wow... you think he would know better

          The counter is, "Sure, our litigation position isn't supported by probable cause, but our purpose isn't to harass or maliciously injure anyone. We only care about our own business, and only sent this letter because we think it's to our advantage, not to hurt them. So this rule doesn't apply."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 5:20pm

    A shame...

    ...because Tito's makes an amazing Chili con Carne burrito. That place was a staple of college life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 6:34pm

    It seems like the most basic use of the first amendment to take an unaltered photograph that relates to the topic of an article (or just a photo by itself). It's factual that the banner was present when the picture was taken. The most I would do is update the caption to include the sentence: "Some silly lawyers in California think the banner in the photograph is a trademark infringement and wanted us to take it down but we stand by the first amendment."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Another Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 6:47pm

    On a similar note (but started long ago)

    I refer you to the long saga of Walter S. Taylor and his Bully Hill Vineyard:

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Oct 2016 @ 7:08pm

    Funny enough, I heard people talking about Taco Tuesday today for National Taco Day and not one person mentioned Taco John's at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 4 Oct 2016 @ 8:32pm

    "Today shall not be known as Taco Tuesday, but Freedom Friday! But still on a Tuesday!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Oct 2016 @ 12:37am

    But all of the best laws are meant to be pushed and twisted into being bludgeons to give people super powers.

    One would think that a lawyer misstating the law would face some sort of reprimand, pity that never happens until the practice reaches stupid levels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 5 Oct 2016 @ 5:04am

    Don't need to imagine.

    I don't need to imagine it. I remember a long time ago having to listen to the Olympic on the radio cause TV was scarce, and in 2016 Olympics with stick figures depicting swimmers. Trademark is awesome.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dr evil, 5 Oct 2016 @ 5:04pm

    what lawyers should do

    respond by saying "this is harassment and leveling a bill to the harassing attorneys for hours required to respond...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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