Comic Con Verdict: Salt Lake Comic Con Loses The Battle, Now Seeks To Win The War

from the a-comic-can-of-worms dept

As you will all know, we've been covering the trademark case between San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con pretty much since this whole dispute began some three years ago. From the outset, this whole thing seemed wholly unreasonable. Whatever trademarks SDCC managed to get past the USPTO, there are roughly a zillion comic cons across the country, few of which have any licensing arrangement with SDCC, meaning the plaintiff in this case hasn't bothered to enforce its trademarks for some time. That generally leads to the mark being abandoned, or considered generic. Either should have kept SLCC in the clear. Add to all that the fact that this is arguably a trademark that should never have been granted on the grounds that it's almost purely descriptive -- a "comic con" is a comic convention -- and many observers thought this was going to be an easy win for SLCC in court, including this writer.

Well, the jury has come back, and it managed to rule for San Diego Comic-Con instead.

In a case that could potentially complicate the lives of comic convention organizers the country over, a federal jury has ruled in San Diego Comic-Con’s favor in a suit brought against Salt Lake Comic Con for violating copyright law with their use of the term “comic con.” The verdict, which was arrived at on Friday afternoon, found SDCC’s trademark is valid, and that Salt Lake Comic Con used it without permission, according to a report by Fox13 in Salt Lake City.

That sound you hear in the distance is a hundred other comic convention organizers slapping their own foreheads. With this ruling, which SLCC may appeal, comic cons all over the place may feel more pressure to give in to any licensing demands from SDCC. Although, perhaps those other cons just need to run out the clock -- more on that in a minute.

I said SLCC may appeal this ruling for two reasons. First, the damages the jury awarded are almost laughably small and nowhere near what SDCC was asking for.

San Diego Comic-Con initially sought up to $12 million in damages from Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, Salt Lake Comic Con’s organizers, but was rewarded only $20,000. According to the ruling, the violation was not a “willful infringement” of the copyright.

“It felt like it was a draw,” Brandenburg told Fox13. He told the news organization that he was currently considering whether or not to appeal. Additionally, Salt Lake Comic Con has proceedings underway with the US trademark office to officially cancel San Diego Comic-Con’s trademark.

And that last bit is the other reason it may not appeal and was my reference above to other cons simply running out the clock. The real misstep here might be in San Diego Comic-Con opening up this can of worms by bullying other cons over its abandoned, generic, descriptive trademark, with the potential end result being one of its victims getting that trademark cancelled entirely. Were I any other comic con in some other city in America, I would be trying to help SLCC getting this mark cancelled in any way I could. It would be a poetic end, to be sure, no matter what one jury thought of that actual case of trademark infringement.

So, more to come, I am sure.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 3:51pm

    Oh, anybody can be wrong -- you're Techdirt WRONG!

    After several arrogant rants bragging of your wide expertise, confidently predicting easy win: WRONG.

    Just on percentages with your opinions, I'll go out on a twig and guess that the trademark will stand.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:51pm

      Re: Oh, anybody can be wrong -- you're Techdirt WRONG!

      Was your self-awareness surgically removed or were you just born without any?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 9:56pm

        Re: Re: Oh, anybody can be wrong -- you're Techdirt WRONG!

        He had it surgically removed to cure his irony deficiency.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:55pm

      Re: Oh, anybody can be wrong -- you're Techdirt WRONG!

      I just went through the previous coverage on the case. I'm not seeing "several arrogant rants bragging of your wide expertise, confidently predicting easy win." Citation?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 5:15pm

      Re: Oh, anybody can be wrong -- you're Techdirt WRONG!

      Like the times you predicted SOPA would be alive, John Steele would get Judge Wright removed, and Shiva Ayyadurai would shut Techdirt down...

      Given your track record you're not exactly qualified to argue here.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 3:59pm

    a federal jury has ruled in San Diego Comic-Con’s favor in a suit brought against Salt Lake Comic Con for violating copyright law with their use of the term “comic con.”

    I'm confused, how exactly did they find this a violation of copyright law?

    Is that just shoddy reporting by the news station mentioned in the quote?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:02pm

      Re:

      Oh, apparently the linked Gizmodo article is the culprit, and the author even admits he screwed up at the end.

      Just terrible.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:03pm

    "the violation was not a “willful infringement” of the copyright."

    Someone doesn't know the different IP's and how they work.

    I look forward to the trademark being cancelled, one can only assume the other comic cons across the nation would be willing to throw a bit of cash into the pot. Chipping in to get it cancelled is a much better fiscal decision than letting themselves getting bled a bit more every year.

    Heh how about calling it the Salt Lake Convention of Comics?

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

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:09pm

      Re:

      I imagine they could just call it the Salt Lake Comic Convention and leave it at that. Fans will still call it the "Salt Lake ComicCon", SDCC be damned.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:11pm

      Re:

      "Comicon" is apparently okay.

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

    • icon
      Scott S. (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:10am

      Re: other comic cons

      I would NOT assume many of the numerous other comic cons will suddenly start helping Salt Lake Comic Con fight back. If these other comic cons (or their attorneys) were too apathetic or afraid before, they probably are even more so after a federal court has ruled against Salt Lake Comic Con.

      It doesn't even seem that any of the other comic cons are speaking out publicly about this issue. Are any of them even adding their two cents worth to Techdirt's articles? Did any of them offer to testify at the trial?

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

      • identicon
        RICH, 15 Dec 2017 @ 7:34am

        Re: Re: other comic cons

        Maybe because they believe like the jury that trademarks mean something.
        Doesn't matter how unpopular some are, they are still trademarks that someone has and must be respected.

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

        • icon
          Scott S. (profile), 15 Dec 2017 @ 11:22am

          Re: other comic cons

          1) what specific knowledge or experience do you have with trademarks?

          2) do you disagree that "comic con" is a widely-used and generic phrase?

          3) could you afford the 100s of thousands of dollars it costs to litigate a trademark dispute through trial and possible appeals?

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

          • identicon
            RICH, 18 Dec 2017 @ 12:02pm

            Re: Re: other comic cons

            To answer your questions, yes, yes and yes. But I would never put myself in such a position.
            Companies should do their homework first. Just by making some phone calls could save costly litigation.
            If there might be a possible conflict it is much better for the parties to discuss it before one of them takes a questionable action.

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      That's the kind of event title that begs for a deep-voiced, echo-y TV announcement, like for big trucks in a giant mudpit at your coliseum, in the days of yore.

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

  • identicon
    Brod, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:08pm

    San Diego Comic-Con

    This IS a con (also comic).

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

  • identicon
    jal, 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:40pm

    Having never been to one of these, I'd happily attend a San Diego Comi-CLANG Con is a Bunch of Poopie-heads Conference held just about anywhere.

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

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 4:59pm

    As I said in the other thread, I don't expect an appeal by the loser because the settlement amount is much lower than any appeal would cost. They have also obtained pretty much all of the publicity that is possible out of the case, there isn't much meat left on that bone.

    They can keep pushing to invalidate the trademark, but at the same time, they can come up with a new moniker for their event and make another big publicity splash about being "not the comic con". They can extract way more than $20,000 worth of marketing value, especially because sites like Techdirt and others will latch onto the story for another round at that point, bemoaning how trademark has hurt the little guy.

    This isn't the last you hear of this case, but I suspect it may be the last time you see it in court, unless SDCC decides to appeal.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 13 Dec 2017 @ 7:00pm

      Re:

      they can come up with a new moniker for their event

      And what could they call it, if not a “comic con”? “Graphic Novel Gala” does not exactly roll off the tongue.

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

      • icon
        MyNameHere (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 1:02am

        Re: Re:

        How about "comicfest" or "Comics In Salt Lake" or just plain "Salt Lake Comic Fan Fest"?

        There are options...

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

      • identicon
        Thad, 14 Dec 2017 @ 9:50am

        Re: Re:

        Comicon, Comic Convention, Comics Fest, Comic Expo, Comic Extravaganza...there are plenty of other names they could pick. But that's not really the point. "Comic Con" is a generic term and the trademark should never have been granted.

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

        • icon
          orbitalinsertion (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 1:02pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          But but but... people will be confused between my company Acme Metalworking, and their company, Zenith Metalworking! And they are just riding on our good name.

          Trademark law has become beyond stupid, and the trademark approvals, the cases, and the rulings are worse.

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

        • identicon
          Thaddeus, 21 Dec 2017 @ 7:54am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Maybe not. But they did. Live with it. They had their day in court and lost.

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

      • icon
        John85851 (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 9:55am

        Re: Re:

        First, why should SDCC call themselves a comic con when they've become a comic book and pop culture convention where Hollywood studios and game makers go to promote their latest productions. Though that doesn't roll off the tongue either. ;)

        Seriously, though, there's DragonCon in Atlanta and MegaCon in Orlando (and probably many other), so these conventions don't necessarily need to say "comic con" or "comic convention".

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

        • icon
          MyNameHere (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 6:46pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yup, they could be "Saltcon" and have a unique name. Just being another CC isn't very unique, is it?

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

          • icon
            Scott S. (profile), 14 Dec 2017 @ 7:38pm

            Re: Saltcon?

            You're totally missing the point. They want, and should be able to legally use, a name that connects them with other "comic cons." Just like if they published "comic books" they wouldn't want to call them something "unique" like "Saltbooks." :)

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

            • identicon
              Shaun, 19 Dec 2017 @ 8:16am

              Re: Re: Saltcon?

              Hey Mynamehere,

              It doesn't matter what you want to call it. You are going to be sued. Just because it's a generic word it can still have a trademark. That's just the way it is. Nothing can be done!!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:07am

        Re: Re:

        Considering "con" is not being used as a word, but as an abbreviation for "convention", "comic convention" is an obvious possibility.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    test, 13 Dec 2017 @ 5:59pm

    Xenu Tom Cruise

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

  • identicon
    Bryan Brandenburg, 14 Dec 2017 @ 8:30am

    Salt Lake Comic Con is appealing

    After our lawfirm Maschoff Brennan offered to handle the appeal on 100% contingency it was an offer we couldn't refuse. We don't pay a penny in legal fees unless they win so they must be confident of the outcome. When you see all the evidence that was not allowed including false declarations on the trademark, abandoned trademark for "comic con", no licenses prior to 2014 when they sued us and even the principle register trademark from Chicago Comicon, you'll understand why we are bullish about winning the con war.

    We like a lot of the people at SDCC and they have a great event. We just think somebody has to stand up for the 140 comic cons that can't afford to fight for what is everybodies.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 2:17pm

      Re: Salt Lake Comic Con is appealing

      "We like a lot of the people at SDCC and they have a great event. We just think somebody has to stand up for the 140 comic cons that can't afford to fight for what is everybodies."

      Who is the asshole on their legal team that initiated this fight and decided short form of the term comic convention, i.e. "Comic Con", belonged exclusively to them? Do they realize they're making their convention look bad to the community?

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 15 Dec 2017 @ 9:20am

      Re: Salt Lake Comic Con is appealing

      Thanks for keeping us posted, Bryan.

      From what I've seen, the judge made a lot of improper calls about what evidence you were allowed to present, and certainly about how you were willing to talk about the case in public. Hopefully you'll get fairer treatment on appeal.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2017 @ 10:28am

    "What's the copyright got to do with trademark?"

    Stallman would say. "Mixing different concerns, you shouldn't" (Stallman in 100 years, turned green)

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


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