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Hollywood Weekly Sues Netflix, Claims It Had Its Paws on the Phrase ‘Tiger King’ First

Joe Maldonado-Passage

Hollywood Weekly Magazine and its founder and publisher, Prather Jackson, are together hoping to devour Netflix, CBS, and other defendants in a lawsuit over trademark rights to the name “The Tiger King.” The plaintiffs are also seeking to enforce the use of their trademark for “Hollywood Weekly” itself.

The now-famous phrase “Tiger King,” the lawsuit claims, “was coined by Plaintiffs in 2013 and (until Defendants’ illicit use in 2020) was used exclusively in connection with Plaintiffs’ numerous magazines that specifically profiled famous/infamous Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic.”

“Joe Exotic is the former owner and operator of a zoo in Oklahoma, a breeder of tigers, lions and related species, and a possible former associate of law enforcement and politicians who had a feud with competitor Carole Baskin,” the lawsuit goes on to remind us. “Joe Exotic was eventually convicted for a murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin and is currently serving a 22-year federal prison sentence (the “Exotic Life”).”

The crux of the legal argument is Netflix’s alleged ripping off of the phrase “Tiger King” (“Mark 1”) and use of Hollywood Weekly Magazine (HWM) (“Mark 2”) to bolster its series on the ‘Joe Exotic’/Carole Baskin case:

Recently after the Series was distributed for streaming, HWM advertisers have wanted to cancel due to the confusion and very easily plausible and obvious connection between the Series and HWM due to the prominent use of the Plaintiffs’ Mark1, Mark2 and the Publication itself in various episodes of the Series without any permission, license, or authority from Plaintiffs whatsoever.

The advertisers were extremely upset causing Plaintiffs to be in shock. They disclosed to Plaintiffs that the Series they watched was a tawdry television program which featured Plaintiffs’ Mark1 in the name of the Series associated it with Plaintiffs, and Plaintiffs Publication and Mark2 were physically used and displayed in the Series as well as the Mark1 being prominently displayed and spoken about throughout the Series. This had the effect of tying the Plaintiffs to the Series without any compensation, release, permission, license, nor assignment thereof, and causing Plaintiffs problems with advertisers and customers, and completely turning “No Gossip, Strictly Entertainment” HWM decades and expensive creation on its head.

“The Publication clearly served as the blueprint, concept, and basis for the Series and the misappropriated use of the Mark1 in the Series name, title, and content,” the lawsuit goes on to allege.

Hollywood Weekly is attempting to register “The Tiger King” as a trademark — it doesn’t have a current registration. The application to register it was submitted July 2, 2020, according to federal records. However, it first used the words in interstate commerce on May 1, 2013, the lawsuit says.  (Unregistered marks do enjoy a small degree of weak legal protection.)  The trademark name for the magazine was registered in full on July 18, 2017, according to federal records, though the lawsuit notes its first use in commerce was in 2001.

The lawsuit alleges a series of counts, including copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and a claim alleging false designation of origin — the latter alleges that Hollywood Weekly had used “Tiger King” since 2013 and that Netflix failed to properly search for the mark before using it.  The remaining counts include trademark dilution; common law copyright infringement; unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices; unjust enrichment; and federal trademark infringement.

The lawsuit seeks damages at trial, including punitive damages.

Law&Crime reached out to Netflix for comment. If a response is received, we will include it here.

READ the lawsuit below:

Hollywood Weekly v Netflix by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via screengrap from Netflix]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network who now contributes to the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.