When I was growing up, James Dean had long been dead. However, I saw a few of his movies when I was in my early teens, and I was sold. I wanted to be a punk rocker, which was as close as an 80’s kid could get to being a “rebel without a cause”, other than being a goofy Rock a Billy guy. Dean was the man. Dean, as a character, was highly influential on me, as he was to millions of others across the globe.
I didn’t even know there was a blower for cars that could be turned on and off manually till I saw a Dean movie for that matter. Even to this day, his name is synonymous with rebellion. And in America rebels are always popular, since our entire country was founded on rebellion against authority and overreaching government. The Dean name has significant pull to this day, and I can see with the trademark and copyright holders of the name would guard it proactively.
And as his name slowly becomes less popular, as myself and my elders who were around when we was still alive, the owners of his name rights will naturally be diversifying and suing to keep what is left of its glamor sending payments their way. In other reports of mine, I talked about the recent cases against Yelp!, and came to the conclusion that these powerful megasites have unlimited resources it seems to defend cases. Well, now the defendant is Twitter, and it seems the result is the same as the last case against Yelp! The facts relate that a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana by James Dean’s estate against the social media company Twitter in February has ended with a dismissal notice.
The federal court dismissed the claim without prejudice, which leaves the ability for the claim to be filed in the future against Twitter and users of the social media company using the name or likeness of Dean. The lawsuit was originally filed in Hamilton Superior Court by the actor’s estate. Lawyers for Twitter requested the case be moved to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
They requested the move to the district court due to federal issues involving trademark infringement and the potential amount of damages. The motion to transfer the lawsuit by the social media company with over 200 million users and several hundred million tweets daily was submitted one day prior to what would have been the actors 83rd birthday. Dean died in a car accident in 1955 at the age of 24.
A federal judge ordered last month that the attorneys for the estate must show cause by December 15, 2014 to avoid having the case dismissed as to the defendants failure to serve the complain within 120 days after the filing of the complaint.
According to Indianapolis-based CMG Worldwide celebrity licensing agency chairman Mark Roesler, which represents James Dean’s estate stated the dispute was resolved to their satisfaction for now. He said the unauthorized @JamesDean account on Twitter has been removed.
Twitter and the lawyers for Dean’s estate have not commented on the dropping of the lawsuit. According to the law the targets of a lawsuit must be formally notified of the legal action. Discovery in the case was put on hold by a federal judge in May until after the complaint for the John Doe defendants had been served. As of November there had been no formal notification served.
Roesler said the person who made the unauthorized account could not be found to serve the formal notification for the lawsuit. Roesler said they were not able to move forward with the suit and the complaint was based on the unauthorized account. He stated there were concerns the account could be mistaken as an official site permitted by Dean’s estate.
The case originated from a 2009 incident when a fan of Dean who was born in Indiana setup a Twitter account with the goal of sharing information about the actor and his movies, such as Rebel Without a Cause. The estate of the actor alleged the owner of the Twitter account and Twitter were using Dean’s name and image without authorization, which are both trademarked by James Dean Inc. representing the actor’s heirs that are considered valuable.
According to CMG Worldwide Deans image remains an extremely valuable commodity even 60 years after his death. Dean was listed at number 10 by Forbes in its listing for highest-earning dead celebrities in 2014 with an income of approximately $7 million dollars. The creator of the unauthorized account reportedly stated to “The Star” an Indiana based newspaper the @JamesDean account was created strictly as a fan account and can be verified by the tweets. The creator of the Twitter account declined to reveal his name and the account no longer appears on Twitter.
There are other Twitter accounts using variations of Dean’s name and likeness still active on Twitter. The lawsuit had named four other John Doe defendants in the action using Twitter accounts, but the main focus of the lawsuit by CMG was the @JamesDean account. We can see that the net is constantly evolving. Parody in creating a user account, or other defenses may not stop a lawsuit. Start ups will have a harder and harder time surviving, and companies that are backed such as Twitter that have counsel will survive. This is my prediction.
Posts by Michael Ehline
- Program and Syllabus COLT Con 2017
- Las Vegas 2017 Circle of Legal Trust Convention - April 20, 2017-April 22, 2017
- Branding for Attorneys and Law Firms 101
- Problem Avoidance 101 for Attorneys and Social Media
- Penguin, Lawyers and the New SEO Landscape
- Building Meaningful and Effective Web Content
- Joe Mas takes the Award for 2016 for Best Speaker
- Trust Con Las Vegas 2016 Was a Hit!
- Legal Branding and Notoriety Just Got Easier for Attorneys!
- Program for April Vegas 7th-9th