The bone of contention concerns the use of the phrase “No animals were harmed” in the credits.
The American Humane Association (AHA), the nation’s voice for the protection of children & animals, is the registered owner of a trade mark which protects this phrase. Since 1940, the AHA has been overseeing the use of animals in movies, TV shows and films. To discharge its monitoring role the organization typically demands script details to be sent to it in advance, and requires on-set access.
Removal from credits
However, the AHA was not involved in the film “The King’s Speech” and could not oversee the featuring of several Corgis. The AHA claims that the phrase “No animals were harmed” has been used without the organisation’s consent and, therefore, infringes its trade mark rights. It is demanding that the producer of “The King’s Speech” remove the phrase from the credits.
By now the phrase “No animals were harmed” has become so common place that it is probably not generally appreciated that it is a registered trade mark. “The King’s Speech” Producer Emile Sherman responded that they were not aware that the phrase “No animals were harmed” was a trade mark owned by AHA.
Cease and desist letters
Last year the AHA sent out cease-and-desist letters to the distributer of five films to enforce its trade mark rights. However, the AHA has never gone to court to enforce its trade mark. This time it seems again that the dispute has been settled out of court. Emile Sherman issued a statement saying that the dispute with AHA has been resolved and a letter has been sent to Weinstein Co. asking the distributer of “The King’s Speech” to remove the phrase from the movie’s credits.
The reason behind AHA’s decision against filing a lawsuit may be that it would be an expensive and time consuming process. Gathering evidence to prove consumer confusion in trade mark cases can be costly and you never know which slant a trade mark case will take. A trade mark proceeding would also be expensive for the producer of the “The King’s Speech” and could harm the reputation of the producer and the film. Therefore, an amicable settlement is probably the best solution for the both parties.
Lessons to learn
The case underlines that even if it seems unlikely that a name or a phrase is protected by a registered trade mark it is worth bearing in mind that it might be, and checking if you would be infringing third party rights by using the name or phrase. Businesses should be aware that not only do they risk trade mark infringement proceedings by not having trade mark searches carried out on all names and phrases, but also the potential need to recall products using third parties’ trade marks. This is not only a huge potential expense, but could also harm business reputation. Avoiding such a risk is comparatively cheap.