Grumpy Cat Awarded $700,000 in a Lawsuit
The internet famous, Grumpy Cat, is a minor celebrity who became popular due to memes about her particularly angry face in 2012. She became a cash cow to her owner, Tabatha Bundesen, in Arizona. The cat's fame allowed Bundesen to quit her waitressing job at Red Lobster.
Bundesen has created a company that processes branded clothing, pillows, mugs, pens, bags, and books "written" by the annoyed looking cat. Grumpy Cat even "wrote" a New York Times bestseller. Grumpy Cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce, has appeared on "Today," "Good Morning America" and "American Idol." She also starred in a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios and became spokescat for Friskies cat food in 2013. The company has generated somewhere between $1-100 million within the first couple years.
The cat found itself in an intellectual property dispute between the Grumpy Cat Limited company and the Grenade beverage company. An eight person jury in Santa Ana, California awarded Grumpy Cat Limited $710,001 in damages.
In 2013, Nick and Paul Sandford, the owners of Grenade made a licensing deal with Grumpy Cat Limited to sell a line of iced coffees called "Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino." But in 2015, the beverage company decided to create a line of "Grumpy Cat Roasted Coffee," which was not in the original deal. So Grumpy Cat Limited filed a copyright lawsuit in federal court. Grumpy Cat Limited also claimed that Grenade was selling unauthorized Grumppuccino T-shirts which "blatantly infringe on the Grumpy Cat copyrights and Grumpy Cat trademarks" without sharing the profits and that the beverage company wasn't paying the agreed-upon percentage of profits from the iced coffee.
Grenade then fired back with a countersuit in which it claimed that Grumpy Cat didn't hold up its end the agreement to promote the iced coffee. The countersuit also stated that Grumpy Cat Limited claimed the unhappy cat would star in a blockbuster movie alongside comedy superstars Will Ferrell and Jack Black. But the only movie Grumpy Cat has ever starred in was "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas," which was made for the Lifetime Network and earned a bleak 5.1 out of 10 stars on IMDb. During the week-long trial at which Grumpy Cat herself made an appearance, Grenade's attorney Brian Kinder said that Grumpy Cat didn't support the joint venture. He pointed to the fact that Grumpy Cat only posted about the iced coffee 17 times on social media. He also cited a Grumpy Cat appearance on the Fox News Show "Fox and Friends," Courthouse News reported. According to Kinder, the cat's handlers were supposed to say, "Watch out, Starbucks. The cat's coming for it," but didn't.
The jury wasn't persuaded.
"Grumpy Cat feels vindicated and feels the jury reached a just verdict," said David Jonelis, the attorney for Grumpy Cat Limited, according to Courthouse News.
Comments from Allen: Hell hath no furry like a cat wronged.
This tail can be divided into two parts: copyright/trademark law and contract law.
The cat owner holds the rights to the cat’s image and distinctive name. By contract, she can license those rights to others. Kudos to her for finding a way to make her cat pay for its own room and board .
The contract spells out exactly how much of those rights to image and name the licensee may use. In this case, the jury was persuaded the license was very specific and limited.
Contracts like these usually do not spell out the penalty for violating the contract by using the name and image in an unauthorized way. Copyright/trademark law comes in here.
The basic remedy for violating a copyright (reproducing picture of the cat for profit) or trademark (using the distinctive name or logo of a company to give consumers the impression your product is associated with that company)is to make the violator surrender the profits made as a result of the violation, and to make the violator pay the costs and attorney fees of the owner. In this case, the profits were $700,001 dollars.
The news media almost never tells us how much was awarded in attorney fees or court costs. There is a separate hearing about one or two months after the verdict is entered in which these amounts are argued before the court. A case like this would commonly involve attorney fees approaching $200,000.
So if you believe the legal system only exists to protect fat cats, you may have a point.
Allen Browning is an attorney in Idaho Falls, Idaho who handles personal injury and criminal defense. He has over 30 years of experience and handled thousands of cases. Allen handles cases from all over Idaho. Call (208) 542-2700 to set up a free consultation if you are facing legal trouble or you have been involved in an accident.
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