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What’s in a NAYME?

October 27th, 2009 No comments

Before offering my thoughts on name and title copyrights, I’ll first apologize to Anthony Bakowa for using the title of an earlier Godzilla blog post that he had written. “What’s in a Name?” is a post reflecting Bakowa’s reading of Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Though I may have used the same title, our posts address very different subjects and do not compete for readership. My intent is to support some of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s arguments for “thinner” copyright protection in his book Copyrights and Copywrongs. Plus, my spelling of “name,” while incorrect, is different from Bakowa’s. Doesn’t this make our titles different? Is an apology even necessary?

My intentional misspelling of “name” helps me introduce lawsuits filed by the widely famous Metal band, Metallica. Apparently, the band has sued several times over the use of its name. My blog title addresses Metallica’s suit against furniture store owner, Kim Hodges in late 1999 for calling his store “Metallika.” An online ABC blurb does state that the owner was a fan of the band, but clearly wasn’t marketing any music or products that would hurt the sale of records.

Earlier the same year, the band pursued a lawsuit against lingerie-giant, Victoria’s Secret for creating a line of “Metallica” lip pencils and cosmetics without the band’s permission. Victoria’s Secret, according to MTV article, Metallica Tell Wheel Company: Don’t Tread on Me, later settled out of court.

The MTV article first addresses a settlement proposal at the time of its publication on August 22,2001. A California wheel manufacturer was asked to discontinue and recall its “Metallica” wheel, named for its metal composition. The sales manager assured interviewers that his employer knew little of the rock band when chosing the product’s name.

The band’s lawyer, Jill Pietrini, explains “it’s just a matter of a company having the right to protect its name. I couldn’t start up a Coca-Cola record company.”

I suppose both the wheels and cosmetics could have been titled differently and simply used the adjective “metallic” to describe the metal-like appearance of the products without risking copyright/trademark infringement. I’m not sure I agree that the sound of the word “Metallica” should be protected, though. Vaidhyanathan discusses “derivative works” the copyright of “The Death Disk,” first published as a short story by Mark Twain. He asks if D. W. Griffith infringed on the copyrights of Mark Twain in his creation of the film “The Death Disc,” although he had changed elements of the story and the spelling (85-100). The same spelling of “Disk” is later used by Biograph and STILL falls into a gray area of copyright protection.

Vaidhyanathan offers justification in the use of “Disk” and “Disc” for the use of different elements in each of the works. Attempting to apply some of his thoughts and arguments, I wonder why a furniture, cosmetic, or wheel company couldn’t then use “Metallica” if not selling anything musically-related.