Charlie Sheen Merchandise Being Targeted Over Publicity Rights
Representatives of Charlie Sheen have started clamping down on entrepreneurs trading off of the actor’s notorious catchphrases.
FEA Merchandising, a subsidiary of Live Nation, has been sending takedown notices and cease-and-desist letters over the past 48 hours. The company is trying to affirm its exclusive market on Charlie Sheen merchandise.
Several companies and enterprising indviduals have already registered a number of Sheen’s phrases at the trademark office, including “winning”, “tiger blood”, and “Adonis DNA”.
While FEA does not have a trademark stake over those phrases yet, it is trying a different protection maneuver, claiming that any products bearing Sheen’s words are violating his publicity rights.
Kate Durkin, one of the co-founders of an organization named Unfollow Charlie, designed t-shirts bearing that slogan and intended for proceeds to go to the charity RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).
They uploaded the design for sale on Zazzle.com, an online retail merchandise site. Shortly afterward, Dunkin was notified that the design would be removed due to infringement.
She received an e-mail which said: “Unfortunately, your product was removed because it featured a design that does not meet Zazzle Acceptable Content Guidelines. Specifically, your product contained content that violates Charlie Sheen’s rights of celebrity/publicity. Charlie Sheen’s name and likeness are protected by rights of celebrity/publicity and may not be used on Zazzle products without permission.”
Yet another retailer on Zazzle.com who tried to sell a t-shirt designed with “#winning” on the front was also sent a takedown notice.
Using publicity rights to protect a celebrity’s slogans or infamous statements rarely happens, but is not unprecedented.
A few decades ago, Johnny Carson sued a toilet manufacturing company selling portable toilets with the words, “Here’s Johnny”. The late night talk show host claimed that the company took the words right out of his introduction every night on his program. Carson won the lawsuit.
FEA and Live Nation, themselves, recently sued Rolling Stone magazine for using its popular cover images of musicians on merchandise. The case was settled.