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How Tweets About Your Mundane Life Affect Trademark Law

Several NBA basketball players including Gilbert Arenas, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard are actively trying to stop various ladies in their lives from appearing on a reality television show on VH-1 called "Basketball Wives." For those of you who may not yet be regular viewers of the program, the show's website explains that:

being the wife or girlfriend of a pro basketball superstar may have its perks, but once you peel away the bling and first-class luxuries, the glitzy glamour train often jumps way off the rails. ... [T]hese women, who've spent years being married to larger-than-life personalities, are really just the same as everyone else. Viewers watched them cope with marriages on the rocks, divorces, single motherhood and rough patches in their relationships just like those experienced by women all over America. 

In Arenas' case, he sued Shed Media, the producers of the show, seeking an injunction to prevent the show from beginning to air on Aug. 29. Hollywood, Esq. reports that earlier this week, however, Arenas' request was denied, and the show will go on. Interestingly, Arenas' case seems to have been undercut by his active presence on Twitter.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee found that the presence of Arenas' former fiancĂ© Laura Govan on the show would inevitably establish a connection to Arenas' likeness and trademark, as the whole point of the show is examine the ladies' relationships with professional basketball players like Arenas. Hollywood Esq. writes that according to Gee, such a connection with Arenas' name and likeness nevertheless constitutes fair use because there is a matter of "public interest" involved -- as proven by Arenas' Twitter feed. Gee ruled that:

Arenas suggests that any discussion of his family life is not sufficiently related to his celebrity to render BWLA's use of his identity a matter of public concern. This contention is belied by the tens of thousands of Twitter users who follow Arenas as he tweets about a variety of mundane occurrences. (emphasis added)

It looks to me that if enough people follow you on Twitter, a federal judge may conclude that the details of your day-to-day life are a matter of "public interest" for purposes of trademark law. Am I reading this correctly? Can any trademark lawyers out there weigh in on this ruling?

Posted by Bruce Carton on August 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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