Looks like everybody’s favorite, swagger-a-plenty, teenage crooner Justin Bieber is once again making news for something other than singing. This time around “the Biebs” is hopping mad over an app called Joustin’ Beaver. His lawyers sent out a “cease and desist” letter to Florida-based development company, RC3, over the issue.
What’s got the Canadian “Baby” singer crying foul? He feels the Joustin’ Beaver game developers are unfairly capitalizing on his likeness.
So, does Justin Bieber have a case?
According to the First Amendment and U.S. legal precedence, parody is protected speech. However, “right of publicity” laws also apply in cases like this. So, let’s examine this parody/copyright/right of publicity lawsuit – byte by byte.
What Is Joustin’ Beaver?
Joustin’ Beaver is a 99 cent app – available for sale in both the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace. The goal of the game? Navigate up a river, signing “otter-graphs,” avoiding “phot-hogs” and “whirlpools of success.” And yes, the Beaver in the game looks exactly as you’d imagine a Bieber Castor Canadensis would look.
In addition to the app, RC3 also runs a humorous Twitter feed from where animal-parody quips about celebrities are distributed daily .
What Do Bieber’s Lawyers Want?
Last week, Bieber’s attorneys sent a cease and desist letter to RC3. It claimed the Florida company, via Joustin’ Beaver, is infringing on the entertainer’s publicity rights and trademark. The correspondence demanded that the app be pulled immediately and accounting figures handed over.
The sticky point for Team Justin? Under U.S. law, parody is not legally actionable.
Parody vs. Intellectual Property Infringement
The Bieber team could very well lose since parody is constitutionally protected speech. A comical “distorted imitation” of an original work is A-OK in the eyes of the courts. Furthermore, parody involves changing words to give a farcical meaning to a new work — and the Joustin’ Beaver lexicon falls squarely into that category.
Parody has played an integral part of our cultural landscape since Voltaire penned Candide. Heck, even Hustler Magazine’s cartoon of Jerry Falwell was considered parody under U.S. law (Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell).
The law only recognizes intellectual property infringement if the work in question is a replica of the original; however, using an original work as an inspiration – especially for humorous expression – is not illegal.
Right of Publicity and the Age of Apps and Internet PR
While Bieber may not have much luck with his claim of intellectual property infringement, could he win on the “right of publicity” claim?
The times they are a changing, and the Internet is a primary avenue for superstar marketing. As such, right of publicity laws may become an oft-argued claim in the court of celebrity justice.
Because think about it: can apps be considered advertisements? How about Twitter feeds? Is it possible for a judge to accept the argument that promoting the app on Twiter – via RC3’s parody account – constitutes unfair infringement since it’s marketing a commercial product that relies heavily on the fame of another?
I bet, moving forward, Rights of Publicity will be something to keep an eye on in the realm of Internet law. The regulations may not be on the books in some jurisdictions just yet, but who knows what can happen in just a few short years.
Talk To An Internet Lawyer About Rights Of Publicity
RC3 has filed a counterclaim, citing the Fair Use Doctrine – 17 U.S.C. Section 107; they’re insisting that Joustin’ Bieber does not “infringe, dilute, or otherwise violate the rights of” The Biebs.
Guess we’ll just have to hold tight to see how this Joustin’ Beaver lawsuit turns out.
In the meantime, if you feel your publicity or intellectual property rights have been infringed, contact the Kelly Law Firm. We’ll help you sort through the legal quagmire of intellectual property infringement.