Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fun With Restaurant Reviews and Trademarks

I find trademarks as too much fun and here is another example from The New York Times of what I find interest Lawyers Enter Twitter Tempest
Mr. Rucinsky, a 30-year-old part-time art dealer who uses his middle name as his last name when he writes, sends silly blurbs on Twitter and writes inane blog postings that purport to reflect Ms. Freeman’s musings about New York City restaurants, like “Governor of Texas raving about Secession on TV all week. Must be great word of mouth for Bouley!” His fake Restaurant Girl also ventures into more cosmic concerns: “Does anyone know what happens to all the chocolate bunnies no one bought for Easter? Are they put to sleep?”

To try to put a stop to it all, Ms. Freeman had lawyers from a Beverly Hills firm send Mr. Rucinsky a stern letter ordering him to stop using the names Restaurant Girl and Danyelle Freeman by the end of this month.

His joke infringes on her rights to her trademark, Restaurant Girl, the lawyers wrote. He should stop using that name or Ms. Freeman’s name in parody form on the Internet, the letter said.

Mr. Rucinsky, who has been talking to his own lawyers and doesn’t plan to budge, said he started the Twitter parody and a subsequent blog as a creative writing exercise. He thought he had found a rich target in Ms. Freeman’s style, which melds the top-of-the-head immediacy of a blog with the breezy tone of a late-night phone call from a friend on her way home from a night of sangria and tacos.

The Times describes the legal issue quite well:
One question is whether Mr. Rucinsky’s writing exercise, with a few more than 300 followers on Twitter and minimal blog traffic, is legitimate parody. Or does he mimic Ms. Freeman so closely that, despite recent disclaimers on his sites, a reasonable reader might not be able to tell the difference?

The Times provides links to the allegedly offending blogsThe Gourmet Glossary, and THE LIFE VICARIOUS.  Here is the Twitter profile.

On The Life Vicarious' And you probably thought Restaurant Girl's writing was criminal, there is a copy of the cease and desist letter and wherein the parodist makes the greatest argument against what the target of the parody's actions:

Can't she just take a fucking joke? It's a Twitter feed. It makes people laugh. Her own writers among them. And they're laughing with us. But really, if she really wants people to laugh at her instead this is the way to do it. Nothing says you're a competent blogger, future author and professional critic for a national newspaper than retaining a law firm to quash a reader's sense of humor.
What may be legally possible does not always translate into what makes good business sense.  Remember that it was The People vs. Larry Flynt and not the People vs. Jerry Falwell.  Or to not be less subtle:  don't wallow with the hogs unless you want to smell like a hog.