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publicity

Paulie unsaturated

by Ron Coleman on July 4, 2011

What better way to pick up that slow DJ business than to hitch a press release to a preposterous trademark infringement claim?  Hint:  It involves an utterly phenomenal battle between intellectual property and journalism in the the New York Post, which no one but the publicity-seeking plaintiff wins.

But first, our story:

“Jersey Shore” star Paul “Pauly D” DelVecchio was slapped with a $4 million trademark infringement lawsuit Thursday from a Connecticut DJ who claimed his business has been ruined by comparisons to the MTV personality.

Paul Lis of South Windsor, Conn., said he spent 40 years building up a reputation as the region’s “DJ Paulie” before DelVecchio began calling himself “DJ Pauly D” on television. . . .

“He formally trademarked [sic] the name ‘DJ Paulie’ and then came the ‘Jersey Shore’ which basically wiped him off the face of the map,” attorney Jose M. Rojas told NewsCore.

The lawsuit alleges that MTV itself flooded the internet with so much “Jersey Shore” content that it was virtually impossible to find Lis’ information or advertise on [sic] his website.

Sounds like rough going all around here — but believe me, it gets worse.  And how much worse can it get?  After all, how can you “ruin” someone who starts out as a “Connecticut DJ”?  What exactly is the up side on that?  Oh, $4 million you say?  Who knew?

Of course, if you were to run a Google search for DJ PAULIE CONNECTICUT — or go crazy and use PAULY — right now… you’d have one heck of an easy time finding him, now that he’s got, not only two turntables and a microphone, but his own lawsuit!

All of which means proving damages should be a snap, right?  Because this year, what with all the search-engine saturation his court filing has got him, Paulie will demonstrate that, best-case scenario, the DJ Paulie gig is a $4M proposition.  And why should MTV deprive DJ Paulie of his best case?  Trademark infringement-wise.

Or is it the other way around?  Because now that sounds like all that infringerating is making things better, not worse.  (Someone write this down:  “File lawsuit; enhance Google search results.”)  Okay, we’ll let the jury sort that one out.

Well, how about the Post’s explanation of the theory of damages in the first place here?  “[I]t was virtually impossible to find Lis’ information or advertise on his website.”  That makes it sound as if MTV was even flooding Lis’s website — to the point where you couldn’t even, um, advertise “on it.”

Typo, right?  Well, the fine state of intellectual property journalism in New York is finally hammered home with this beaut later in the article:

Meanwhile, DelVecchio applied for a slew of US patents attempting to copyright his own moniker.

Whoa!  Trademark… copyright … patents … monikers?

If indeed the test for a trademark infringement is a likelihood of confusion — and I’ve always been partial to the argument that it was — then there is definitely a trademark infringement here.  Because after reading this article I, for one, am completely confused.

What a train wreck.  Here the newspaper story about the lawsuit may be even worse than what reads like one pretty bad lawsuit.  Good thing professional journalism is keeping that edge and saving society from that blogging stuff.

The biggest irony?  The article doesn’t even mention the right of publicity — publicity being the the only thing DJ Paulie’s lawsuit definitely got right.

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Religion correspondent Mark Oppenheimer mentions this site and me in a finely drawn profile of Secular Right, the website I’m involved in (it launched in 2008) which explores the theme of a non-religiously-based conservatism. Oppenheimer interviewed at length two scintillating writers who contribute much of the site’s luster, Heather Mac Donald and Razib Khan. This passage amusingly captures the diversity of views among the SR principals:

The five bloggers are like the dramatis personae of a drawing-room comedy about irascible conservatives — written by Alan Bennett but set at the Heritage Foundation.

There’s the urban pragmatist (Ms. Mac Donald, who clerked for the liberal federal Judge Stephen Reinhardt but now writes conservative essays about homelessness and policing), the data-driven scientist (Mr. Khan), and the libertarian enthusiast for tort reform (Walter Olson, also founder of the blog Overlawyered).

The other two, I should add, are John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford, both born in Great Britain and well known through their association with National Review, and both, like Khan and Mac Donald, exceptionally talented writers. The article is interesting throughout, and has already begun to provoke a variety of responses: Memeorandum, Dan Riehl (disapproving) with response from Razib Khan, Amy Alkon, Tyler Cowen, Ilya Somin, FrumForum, etc.

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Happy Meal lawsuit, cont’d

by Walter Olson on December 17, 2010

My New York Daily News opinion piece stirred up a whole lot of discussion: at Megan McArdle/The Atlantic, Hans Bader/CEI, Mike Riggs/Daily Caller “TheDC Morning”, Outside the Beltway, Radley Balko, AllahPundit/Hot Air, Never Yet Melted, Modeled Behavior, Above the Law, Twitter mentions, John Hayward/Human Events, Jammie Wearing Fool, Andrew Stuttaford/NRO “Corner”, Amy Alkon, Chris Robinette/TortsProf, Ira Stoll/Future of Capitalism, Tom Kirkendall, John Steele Gordon/Commentary, and my own write-up at Cato at Liberty.

Also: Check out the further information Ira Stoll has developed at his site about the meals San Francisco serves at its own schools, which seem to compare not at all favorably with the meals the city’s council has seen fit to ban.

Remember, this isn’t a once-every-so-often treat provided at parental discretion, like a Happy Meal — this is the food the state is serving for lunch in the essentially compulsory government schools. The fact that it’s McDonald’s rather than the government schools that are getting sued by this parent and advocacy group gives away what the lawsuit is really about. It’s not really about food, or calories — it’s about an attempt to increase the power of the state over private enterprise by restricting the power of the private enterprise to market its product. The suit isn’t about the “meal,” it’s about the “happy.”

More on the nutritional background: Patrick Basham and John Luik, “A Happy Meal Ban Is Nothing to Smile About”, Spiked Online; David Oliver. On the legal: Russell Jackson. And welcome listeners of Lars Larson’s Portland, Ore.-based radio show, which welcomed me as a guest to discuss the case Dec. 17.

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I’m quoted in this report by Dunstan Prial of FoxBusiness.com and in this report by David Savage of the Los Angeles Times on the large-scale bounty incentives in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, which bring us closer to an “informer model of law enforcement” that “encourages people to be disloyal to their friends and co-workers.” Earlier here and here. Other coverage of the whistleblowing provisions: Coyle/NLJ, Koehler/FCPA Professor, Baer/Prawfsblawg.

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Found in violation of the terms of her probation and sentenced to 90 days, the actress feels that the criminal justice system has been too strict with her and used her Twitter account to link a Cato Institute paper on the federal sentencing guidelines. Unfortunately for her cause, the guidelines are of doubtful relevance to her complaint. Washington Post “Reliable Sources” columnist Roxanne Roberts and Washington Examiner “Yeas and Nays” columnist Nikki Schwab quote me on the subject.

As I noted, ordinary non-celebrity defendants who get into less serious legal trouble very often encounter harsher consequences than has Lohan. The Washington Post itself reported a few years ago, for example, on some of the life-upending consequences of DUI first offenses for persons with otherwise clean legal records. Cato’s Tim Lynch has some further thoughts. More: David Lat, Above the Law.

P.S. Patrick at Popehat seems to find something incongruous in my stepping into a role as commentator on Lohan’s legal spinout. All snark aside, I did think she did a fine job in The Parent Trap. P.P.S. And so does the daughter of Washington & Lee professor Erik Luna, author of the Cato paper in question.

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I’m quoted today in the Times (and this site is linked — way to go Times!) in John Schwartz’s piece on Sonia Sotomayor’s opinions in civil litigation, where she comes across as generally on the liberal side, but not an anti-business crusader (see also Adam Liptak’s Times account). Here’s what I said:

Some of the attacks against the judge’s business rulings turn a complex legal record into a caricature, said Walter K. Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative organization, and the editor of a blog, Overlawyered.com. While expressing some qualms about Judge Sotomayor’s views, Mr. Olson said “she will not be as liberal as many of the Republicans are saying — but no one could be that liberal, even if they tried.”

For more of the reasons that enter into this opinion, see my roundup yesterday at the Manhattan Institute’s Point of Law, where I and others have been blogging on many angles of the Sotomayor nomination, with more to come.

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Self-described as “America’s Lifestyle Coach For Health And Wellness” and “the quintessential, cutting edge fitness advocate leader”, Michael Torchia says he intends to sue Nintendo over the fitness claims it explicitly or implicitly has made for its wildly popular Wii game system, which, as Patrick at Popehat notes, is a bit of a competitor to his own services. The main success of the strained action will predictably be in drawing public attention to Mr. Torchia, a process to which, alas, we appear to be contributing with this very post.

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I’m quoted by Amanda Erickson in today’s Chicago Tribune:

[click to continue…]

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In a 23-page opinion, Judge Denny Chin of the Southern District of New York ruled yesterday that confectioner Mars inc. did not violate the right of publicity of well-known Times Square entertainer Robert Burck, AKA the Naked Cowboy.

Mars had run a billboard video of its iconic M&M cartoon character in a variety of NY-centric contexts, including one scene in which the character was “wearing only a white cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and underpants, and carrying a guitar–Burck’s regular get-up.

New York’s publicity law (Sections 50 and 51 of the state’s Civil Rights Code) is among the most stringent in the nation, applying to “any recognizable likeness” of a person used in a commercial context, making the win an especially sweet one for Mars. An M&M in underpants and cowboy hat, said the court, was simply not a depiction of Burck.

The court, however, refused to render summary judgment on the Naked Cowboy’s Lanham Act claim of false endorsement, on the grounds that passers-by might confuse the M&M video for the Cowboy’s (somewhat dubious?) endorsement. (Earlier coverage).

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