The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

"The Law Has Already Sawed That Claim in Half"

The latest from Paul Alan Levy (Public Citizen), pushing back against threats of trademark litigation over parody.


From Levy's Consumer Law & Policy Blog post, "Defending the Right to Be Funny" (and check out the demand letter itself):

Late last year, Harrison Greenbaum, a New York comedian and magician, included Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, better known in the magician trade as Criss Angel, who is, apparently, a very well known magic act, in an annual satirical review that he offers of major figures in the magic trade. A particular point of this performance was a restaurant that Sarantakos opened in a rural area outside Las Vegas called Criss Angel Breakfast Lunch and Pizza, or CABLP. Greenbaum put together a parody of the restaurant's menu, and put the menu online for the performance, using the domain name, which was still available for purchase because Sarantakos, quite logically, chose some much shorter domain names ( and which could much more easily be typed into a browser.

Angel was neither honored to have been included in the satirical hall of honor, nor amused by the jokes. He hired a lawyer in New York to send Greenbaum a demand letter asserting that the parody menu infringes his copyright and his trademark, and that the domain name infringes his trademark, and threatening both to sue for damages and to invoke the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy ("UDRP") to seize the domain name. Hoping to achieve a prompt resolution, Greenbaum's initial reaction was to offer to give up the domain name, but at that point Sarantakos got greedy, demanding both a confidentiality clause as well as a commitment that Greenbaum would never again display the parody menu.

The result is that Sarantakos is likely to get nothing besides more publicity for the CABLP Restaurant parody. In a letter sent late last week, I explained both that the domain name for the parody menu is well protected by a line of cases that Public Citizen established back in the first decade of this century, and that the menu itself is a fully protected, noncommercial parody that cannot possibly be confused with Sarantakos' commercial enterprise and in any event is fair use under both trademark and copyright laws….