National Geographic wants Stouffer suit dismissed
Facing trademark violations from wildlife filmmaker Marty Stouffer, National Geographic has responded by contending the work the Pitkin County resident disputes is protected by the First Amendment.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Denver federal court, the wildlife production empire said the court “should not permit Stouffer to misuse the law, and the court’s resources, in this manner.”
The motion adds that “Stouffer’s complaint is, essentially, an objection to the fact that NatGeo is making nature documentaries.”
National Geographic’s response comes after Stouffer, whose Marty Stouffer Productions is based in Aspen, sued it on contentions that it used his ideas and its divisions stole his “Wild America” brand for their own video productions.
Brothers Marty and Mark Stouffer starred in the original “Wild America,” which showed the tandem journeying across North America’s wildlands on a mission to capture rare nature videos. The lawsuit says it was one of PBS’ most popular series, and Marty Stouffer Productions invested more than $24.5 million to advertise, promote and brand the series.
The suit alleges, for instance, that National Geographic’s “America the Wild,” a television series that debuted in 2013, “bears a striking resemblance to ‘Wild America,’ replicating the most minute details of ‘Wild America’ in its production.”
“America the Wild,” by using host Casey Anderson, mimicked Marty Stouffer’s work on “Wild America,” such as Anderson’s interactions with grizzly bears that were similar to those of Stouffer’s, the suit claims.
National Geographic’s motion to dismiss, however, argued, “It is a matter of common sense that Stouffer cannot claim rights in a set of generic traits common among television shows of this type: a male star, interacting with animals, having facial hair, or of wearing a backpack and jacket while standing on snow.”
Stouffer’s lawsuit also contends that National Geographic violated intellectual-property law by copying “many iconic images from ‘Wild America,’ including, among others, the image of two big horn sheep head-butting one another.”
In its motion to dismiss, National Geographic, counters that “a shot of big horn rams head-butting one another is classic scènes à faire in a nature program featuring rams which has appeared countless times on screen. Head-butting is what rams do, and such scenes are indispensable to this type of program. The same is true with footage about animals taking care of their young.”
Whether it is rams head-butting or a man with facial hair interacting with animals, National Geographic argues that those are not copyrightable or protected actions under the Lanham Act, which also is known as the Trademark Act, which President Harry Truman signed into law in 1946.
“All of Stouffer’s claims that relate to the titles of the NatGeo Programs require dismissal because the NatGeo Programs are expressive works protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States,” the motion to dismiss argues. “Except in exceptionally rare circumstances not applicable here, the Lanham Act and related claims (e.g., state law unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, and right of publicity claims, etc.) cannot trump the right of free speech.”
The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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