Posts by Ken Basin

Law Law Land is edited by Ken Basin, a Greenberg Glusker lawyer whose practice focuses on dealmaking for talent and producers, entertainment litigation, and copyright and trademark issues related to the entertainment industry. His extensive prior journalistic experience includes writing for his high school newspaper, his college newspaper, and his law school newspaper, yet his attempts to have his colleagues and bosses refer to him as “Chief” have been largely unsuccessful. Ken’s game show exploits have also made him the subject of numerous YouTube memes.

Register Before It’s Too Late!

Last week, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott learned the hard way that conference expansion is a little trickier than subbing a “12” in for the“10” in your logo.

As many news outlets reported over the weekend, the soon-to-be-Pac-12 conference has discovered that the domain has already been claimed by a fan of the late (unless he isn’t) Tupac Shakur, who has been using the site to offer an Amazon widget selling 2Pac albums. The Pac-10 has responded by filing a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization, seeking control of the site.

Most people seem to assume this is nothing but a momentary hiccup in the conference’s plans. After all, the Pac-10 is a well-established — and well-funded — preeminent national sporting organization, and a one-page CD ad with the heading “Tupac Lives!” doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of conference partisans everywhere. But, if it can’t (or won’t) cough up a check with enough zeroes on it in order to buy the domain peacefully, the conference may have a real problem wresting away control of the domain by legal force.

Why is that, you ask? The answer requires us to first play a quick game of alphabet soup. Continue reading the full story . . . »

This Is Our Big Game Super Bowl Blog Post. Now Come and Get Us, NFL!

Unless you live here, I’m assuming you’re aware of a little football game taking place this weekend between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I’m as excited as anyone for the game, which is why, this Sunday, I might try to find a local bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But I’ll probably be out of luck, unless I’m willing to go to a “Big Game” party instead. And if I’m feeling spendthrift — the always-confusing word that sounds like “thrifty” but actually means “profligate” — I might try to pick up a new flat-screen TV at a Super Bowl sale. But unless I’m willing to settle for one of those ubiquitous “Big Game” sales, I’ll probably be forced to stick with what I’ve got.

Every year, while every sports yak in America is obsessing over Super Bowl scouting reports, every business in America is trying to capitalize on the game. But most of them aren’t using the words “Super Bowl” to do so, and the reason is fairly obvious: the phrase “Super Bowl” is trademarked by the NFL, which is famously protective of its intellectual property. Moreover, the privilege of using the phrase “Super Bowl” in advertising is one of the valuable rights bestowed by the NFL upon its advertisers and promotional partners — which gives the NFL extra incentive to keep freeloaders from poaching the phrase (thereby diminishing its value to potential paying promotional partners).

But what if the NFL is wrong? What if I really could check out the Super Bowl party at my favorite watering hole without them being subjected to the threat of legal doom?

Guess what, kiddies: I can. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Next Step: Registering a Trademark for an Inherently Distinctive (and Wonderful) Legal Blog

Time for a teen years confession.

For about two years, starting on August 25, 1997, my life had about four principal components: sleep, eat, school, GoldenEye. For the uninitiated, GoldenEye was a first-person shooter video game for the Nintendo 64, based on the James Bond film of the same name. And it. Was. AwesomeWidely regarded as one of the most successful, beloved, and influential video games of all time, GoldenEye helped prove that pale, unathletic teenagers and drunken frat boys had more in common than they ever previously dreamed — a shared joy incartoonishly shooting their friends in the face.

Playing GoldenEye was its own reward, and I never expected any remuneration for those long, sleepness nights spent playing the game, devouring Oreos by the handful, and listening to Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life album on repeat (also all true). But it seems I am, in fact, due a “thank you” card from a little-known company called Carl Walther GmbH Sportwaffen. That company — better known simply as Walther — manufactures the PPK pistol, best known as James Bond’s weapon of choice. And no doubt thanks in part to the efforts of obsessive gamers like myself, last month Walther received a rare product configuration trademark from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for the design of its iconic gun.

That’s right: the shape of this gun is now a registered trademark.

Traditionally, trademark protection is accorded to company and product names, logos, and slogans. Kodak — a company name. CyberShot — a product line. “The Best a Man Can Get” — a slogan. The distinctive green-rimmed Starbucks logo. In other words, all of the obvious signifiers of the source of a product or service. So the idea that a product can be its own trademark is definitely unintuitive. Luckily for Walther, though, the company hired lawyers. And as any lawyer will tell you, the law cares very little for your wounded intuition.

Continue reading the full story . . . »

Chippendales Loses a Legal Decision That Isn’t Really Interesting; Here’s an Awesome Chris Farley Sketch

Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled against Chippendales in its efforts to trademark its well-known “cuffs-and-collars” male stripper garb, spawning headlines like “Chippendales rebuffed in trademark bid” (Los Angeles Times) and “Chippendales fails to trademark outfit” ( The truth is something far more nuanced and technical than that: in fact, Chippendales has long had trademark protection for its “cuffs-and-collars” outfits, and the Federal Circuit’s decision affects only the extent of that protection, turning on a distinction between “acquired distinctiveness” and “inherent distinctiveness” that we really tried to make sound interesting, but it just isn’t.

So instead, let’s just use it as an excuse to rewatch this totally awesome Chris Farley sketch from Saturday Night Live:

Continue reading the full story . . . »

Now Playing at a Theater Near You: Lessons About the Law

Works of entertainment have a lot to say — and a lot to do — about the world around us. Whether a movie is fiction, non-fiction, or falls into that precarious and uncertain space in between, movies have valuable lessons to teach us about not only the challenges facing our world, but also how we can start to face them.

Erin Brockovich

Category: Fictionalized True Story

In One Sentence: Unemployed-single-mother-turned-paralegal champions the cause of hundreds of residents of a small town who seem to be getting sick because of chemical dumping by the local power company, and wins them a multimillion dollar settlement.

Realism: 4 out of 5. While the portrayal of events in the film generated some controversy, most of the issues seemed to be disputes about reality itself, not the film’s depiction of reality. Hate to the be one to break this to you, though: the cleavage-for-information thing probably never happened.

Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5.

Key Lesson: Sometimes empathy and committed doggedness are more important that pure resources and legal prowess.

Fun Fact: The real Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry both make cameo appearances in the film. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Five Legal Issues Every Documentary Filmmaker Should Keep in Mind

The entertainment industry can be a legal minefield. And while the legal issues that face documentary filmmakers may not be unique, documentarians — who typically work on shoestring budgets, rely heavily on preexisting copyrighted materials, and often say things that moneyed and powerful interests don’t want to hear — are uniquely vulnerable. With that in mind, here’s a “top 5” list of legal issues that you, our favorite documentary filmmaker (yes, you, silly), should know about when planning, making, and selling your film. Continue reading the full story . . . »