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Ads referencing classic film spark trademark dispute

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2020 | Intellectual Property

Many people in New York love the classic film “The Endless Summer,” which highlights surf culture. Its blue-and-orange, graphic posters have also become memorable works of movie art. However, the film’s director, who runs a company dedicated to licensing intellectual property from the film, says that two major companies infringed on the film’s visuals, name and concept without seeking a license. Bruce Brown Films, LLC, says that Nike and Champs used his company’s trademarked name and protected graphics to market a line of orange-and-blue sneakers promoted with a surfing theme.

Nike and Champs created an Endless Summer campaign with orange-and-blue graphics, including one of a wave in front of an orange sun. The promotional campaign appeared to clearly reference “The Endless Summer” film, including a famous poster promoting the movie that featured a series of waves in front of a large orange sun. However, Bruce Brown Films, LLC, says that neither the footwear manufacturer or the chain of shoe stores ever inquired about or purchased a license to use its trademarks. The filmmaker’s company filed a lawsuit against Nike, Champs and the shoe store’s parent company, Footlocker, accusing all three of knowingly infringing the Endless Summer trademarks and making use of the film’s fame to market their own products.

Bruce Brown Films says that it sent the companies a cease and desist letter about the infringing campaign, but they continued to use the marketing throughout the summer of 2019. Bruce Brown Films says that it offers a wide variety of licensing opportunities related to the film and continues to take in significant income from these licenses.

Classic films and literature from the 20th century are often actively protected by copyright and trademark, even when they may seem to have become a general part of the popular culture. An intellectual property attorney may help businesses navigate trademark and licensing issues.