When Thomas Woods opened a convenience store in Gulfport, Mississippi just after Hurricane Katrina, he wanted to help the community rebuild. According to the local Sun Herald, he chose a name for his store meant to inspire the hard work and perseverance he was serving: Gitrdone.
Whatever else Woods may have accomplished with his convenience store, he certainly got it done in attracting a trademark lawsuit from Daniel Lawrence Whitney (better known as the comedian Larry the Cable Guy) and Git-R-Done Productions.
While this particular lawsuit is between a comedian and a convenience store, it demonstrates a risk too many filmmakers take on—especially small-budget, indie productions. Here’s how trademark lawsuits can affect filmmakers of all sizes and how you can take steps to minimize your risk.
Git-R-Done Productions and Trademarks
According to Courthouse News, Git-R-Done Productions holds 23 trademarks around Larry the Cable Guy’s catchphrase, “Git ‘r done!” It uses those trademarks to license apparel and other products which feature the phrase.
Both the comedian and Git-R-Done Productions have a monetary interest in maintaining the integrity of those trademarks. If other businesses can make money off of the phrase without licensing, then the trademarks have no value.
That’s why, in 2015, they filed suit against the convenience store, not only for using the name Gitrdone, but claiming the store also displayed a rusted tow truck reminiscent of Larry the Cable Guy’s popular animated character Mater (from the Pixar film Cars).
Although the convenience store countered that Larry the Cable Guy didn’t invent the phrase, the courts denied that logic. The court held that “Shell, Camel, and Apple did not invent those words . . . but they are still entitled to trademark protection in the context of gasoline, cigarettes, and computers.”
Size Is No Immunity from a Trademark Lawsuit
Too many small-budget and indie filmmakers mistakenly believe that the size of their production limits their exposure to lawsuits.
However, if Git-R-Done Productions felt like a single convenience store on the coast of Mississippi warrants a trademark lawsuit, no film—however small—is exempt from that risk.
In addition, trademark lawsuits can come from anyone, not just the big production companies or corporations—and not just from within the film industry. It’s easy to imagine how naming your new film La-La-Landing would be inviting a lawsuit. You might not be expecting a trademark lawsuit from a business coach in Seattle, however, but it happened to Oprah’s O magazine.
The takeaway for filmmakers is that your work is at risk for a trademark lawsuit regardless of the size of your production (or the size of the plaintiff’s operation).
Get Your Title Report Done
The best way to minimize your exposure to trademark lawsuits is to have a professional, legal review of your title. A Title Report will involve a comprehensive review of existing trademarks (and even unregistered uses of the title).
With a Title Report in hand, you can make an intelligent, informed decision about the risks associated with your film’s name. Whether you decide to change names, contact the existing trademark holder, or press forward, you’ll know exactly where you stand.
Getting it done is easy: simply visit The Clearance Lab and choose the Title Report that best suits your needs.