CARSON v. HERE'S JOHNNY PORTABLE TOILETS, INC. No. 80-1720.
698 F.2d 831 (1983)
John W. CARSON, d/b/a Johnny Carson, an individual, and Johnny Carson Apparel, Inc., a corporation, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. HERE'S JOHNNY PORTABLE TOILETS, INC., a corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
Rehearing Denied March 2, 1983.
Allen M. Krass (argued), Krass & Young, Troy, Mich., for defendant-appellee.
Before KENNEDY, Circuit Judge, BROWN and SWYGERT Senior Circuit Judges.
BAILEY BROWN, Senior Circuit Judge.
This case involves claims of unfair competition and invasion of the right of privacy and the right of publicity arising from appellee's adoption of a phrase generally associated with a popular entertainer.
Appellant, John W. Carson (Carson), is the host and star of "The Tonight Show," a well-known television program broadcast five nights a week by the National Broadcasting Company. Carson also appears as an entertainer in night clubs and theaters around the country. From the time he began hosting "The Tonight Show" in 1962, he has been introduced on the show each night with the phrase "Here's Johnny." This method of introduction was first used for Carson in 1957 when he hosted a daily television program for the American Broadcasting Company. The phrase "Here's Johnny" is generally associated with Carson by a substantial segment of the television
Appellant Johnny Carson Apparel, Inc. (Apparel), formed in 1970, manufactures and markets men's clothing to retail stores. Carson, the president of Apparel and owner of 20% of its stock, has licensed Apparel to use his name and picture, which appear on virtually all of Apparel's products and promotional material. Apparel has also used, with Carson's consent, the phrase "Here's Johnny" on labels for clothing and in advertising campaigns. In 1977, Apparel granted a license to Marcy Laboratories to use "Here's Johnny" as the name of a line of men's toiletries. The phrase "Here's Johnny" has never been registered by appellants as a trademark or service mark.
Appellee, Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., is a Michigan corporation engaged in the business of renting and selling "Here's Johnny" portable toilets. Appellee's founder was aware at the time he formed the corporation that "Here's Johnny" was the introductory slogan for Carson on "The Tonight Show." He indicated that he coupled the phrase with a second one, "The World's Foremost Commodian," to make "a good play on a phrase."
Shortly after appellee went into business in 1976, appellants brought this action alleging unfair competition, trademark infringement under federal and state law, and invasion of privacy and publicity rights. They sought damages and an injunction prohibiting appellee's further use of the phrase "Here's Johnny" as a corporate name or in connection with the sale or rental of its portable toilets.
After a bench trial, the district court issued a memorandum opinion and order, Carson v. Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc.,
Appellants' first claim alleges unfair competition from appellee's business activities in violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (1976), and of Michigan common law. The district court correctly noted that the test for equitable relief under both § 43(a) and Michigan common law is the "likelihood of confusion" standard. Frisch's Restaurants, Inc. v. Elby's Big Boy of Steubenville, Inc.,
In Frisch's Restaurants we approved the balancing of several factors in determining whether a likelihood of confusion exists among consumers of goods involved in a § 43(a) action. In that case we examined eight factors:
670 F.2d at 648. The district court applied a similar analysis. Under the two-step process adopted in Frisch's Restaurants, these eight foundational factors are factual and subject to a clearly erroneous standard of review, while the weighing of these findings on the ultimate issue of the likelihood of confusion is a question of law. 670 F.2d at 651.
The district court first found that "Here's Johnny" was not such a strong mark that its use for other goods should be
Our review of the record indicates that none of the district court's findings is clearly erroneous. Moreover, on the basis of these findings, we agree with the district court that the appellants have failed to establish a likelihood of confusion. The general concept underlying the likelihood of confusion is that the public believe that "the mark's owner sponsored or otherwise approved the use of the trademark." Warner Bros., Inc. v. Gay Toys, Inc.,
The facts as found by the district court do not implicate such likelihood of confusion, and we affirm the district court on this issue.
The appellants also claim that the appellee's use of the phrase "Here's Johnny" violates the common law right of privacy and right of publicity.
In an influential article, Dean Prosser delineated four distinct types of the right of privacy: (1) intrusion upon one's seclusion or solitude, (2) public disclosure of embarrassing private facts, (3) publicity which places one in a false light, and (4) appropriation of one's name or likeness for the defendant's advantage. Prosser, Privacy, 48 Calif.L.Rev. 383, 389 (1960). This fourth type has become known as the "right of publicity." Factors Etc., Inc. v. Pro Arts, Inc.,
Dean Prosser's analysis has been a source of some confusion in the law. His first three types of the right of privacy generally protect the right "to be let alone," while the right of publicity protects the celebrity's pecuniary interest in the commercial exploitation of his identity. Zacchini, supra, 433 U.S. at 573, 97 S.Ct. at 2856. See generally The Right of Publicity — Protection for Public Figures and Celebrities, 42 Brooklyn L.Rev. 527 (1976). Thus, the right of privacy and the right of publicity protect fundamentally different interests and must be analyzed separately.
We do not believe that Carson's claim that his right of privacy has been invaded is supported by the law or the facts. Apparently, the gist of this claim is that Carson is embarrassed by and considers it odious to be associated with the appellee's product. Clearly, the association does not appeal to Carson's sense of humor. But the facts here presented do not, it appears to us, amount to an invasion of any of the interests protected by the right of privacy. In any event, our disposition of the claim of an invasion of the right of publicity makes it unnecessary for us to accept or reject the claim of an invasion of the right of privacy.
The district court dismissed appellants' claim based on the right of publicity because appellee does not use Carson's name or likeness. 498 F.Supp. at 77. It held that it "would not be prudent to allow recovery for a right of publicity claim which does not more specifically identify Johnny Carson." 498 F.Supp. at 78. We believe that, on the contrary, the district court's conception of the right of publicity is too narrow. The right of publicity, as we have stated, is that a celebrity has a protected pecuniary interest in the commercial exploitation of his identity. If the celebrity's identity is commercially exploited, there has been an invasion of his right whether or not his "name or likeness" is used. Carson's identity may be exploited even if his name, John W. Carson, or his picture is not used.
In Motschenbacher v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.,
Id. at 826-827 (footnote omitted).
In Ali v. Playgirl, Inc.,
In Hirsch v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.,
280 N.W.2d at 137.
In this case, Earl Braxton, president and owner of Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., admitted that he knew that the phrase "Here's Johnny" had been used for years to introduce Carson. Moreover, in the opening statement in the district court, appellee's counsel stated:
App. 68. That the "Here's Johnny" name was selected by Braxton because of its identification with Carson was the clear inference from Braxton's testimony irrespective of such admission in the opening statement.
We therefore conclude that, applying the correct legal standards, appellants are entitled to judgment. The proof showed without question that appellee had appropriated Carson's identity in connection with its corporate name and its product.
Although this opinion holds only that Carson's right of publicity was invaded because appellee intentionally appropriated his identity for commercial exploitation, the dissent, relying on its interpretation of the authorities and relying on policy and constitutional arguments, would hold that there was no invasion here. We do not believe that the dissent can withstand fair analysis.
The dissent contends that the authorities hold that the right of publicity is invaded only if there has been an appropriation of the celebrity's "name, likeness, achievements, identifying characteristics or actual performances." After so conceding that the right is at least this broad, the dissent then attempts to show that the authorities upon which the majority opinion relies are explainable as involving an appropriation of one or more of these attributes. The dissent explains Motschenbacher, supra, where the advertisement used a photograph, slightly altered, of the plaintiff's racing car, as an "identifying characteristic" case. But the dissent fails to explain why the photograph any more identified Motschenbacher than the phrase "Here's Johnny" identifies appellant Carson. The dissent explains Hirsch, supra, by pointing out that there the use of the appellation "Crazylegs" by the defendant was in a "context" that suggested a reference to Hirsch and that therefore Hirsch was identified by such use. Here, the dissent states, there is no evidence of the use of "Here's Johnny" in such a suggestive "context." Putting aside the fact that appellee also used the phrase "The World's Foremost Commodian," we fail to see why "context" evidence is necessary where appellee's president admitted that it adopted the name "Here's Johnny" because it identified appellant Carson. We do not understand appellee to even contend that it did not successfully accomplish its intended purpose of appropriating his identity. The dissent explains Ali, supra, by pointing out that in that case the magazine used a drawing that "strongly suggests" it to be a representation
It should be obvious from the majority opinion and the dissent that a celebrity's identity may be appropriated in various ways. It is our view that, under the existing authorities, a celebrity's legal right of publicity is invaded whenever his identity is intentionally appropriated for commercial purposes. We simply disagree that the authorities limit the right of publicity as contended by the dissent.
With respect to the dissent's general policy arguments, it seems to us that the policies there set out would more likely be vindicated by the majority view than by the dissent's view. Certainly appellant Carson's achievement has made him a celebrity which means that his identity has a pecuniary value which the right of publicity should vindicate. Vindication of the right will tend to encourage achievement in Carson's chosen field. Vindication of the right will also tend to prevent unjust enrichment by persons such as appellee who seek commercially to exploit the identity of celebrities without their consent.
The dissent also suggests that recognition of the right of publicity here would somehow run afoul of federal monopoly policies and first amendment proscriptions. If, as the dissent seems to concede, such policies and proscriptions are not violated by the vindication of the right of publicity where the celebrity's "name, likeness, achievements, identifying characteristics or actual performances" have been appropriated for commercial purposes, we cannot see why the policies and proscriptions would be violated where, as here, the celebrity's identity has admittedly been appropriated for commercial exploitation by the use of the phrase "Here's Johnny Portable Toilets."
The judgment of the district court is vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
CORNELIA G. KENNEDY, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
I respectfully dissent from that part of the majority's opinion which holds that appellee's use of the phrase "Here's Johnny" violates appellant Johnny Carson's common law right of publicity. While I agree that an individual's identity may be impermissibly exploited, I do not believe that the common law right of publicity may be extended beyond an individual's name, likeness, achievements, identifying characteristics or actual performances, to include phrases or other things which are merely associated with the individual, as is the phrase "Here's Johnny." The majority's extension of the right of publicity to include phrases or other things which are merely associated with the individual permits a popular entertainer or public figure, by associating himself or herself with a common phrase, to remove those words from the public domain.
The phrase "Here's Johnny" is merely associated with Johnny Carson, the host and star of "The Tonight Show" broadcast by the National Broadcasting Company. Since 1962, the opening format of "The Tonight
Appellee has stipulated that the phrase "Here's Johnny" is associated with Johnny Carson and that absent this association, he would not have chosen to use it for his product and corporation, Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc. I do not consider it relevant that appellee intentionally chose to incorporate into the name of his corporation and product a phrase that is merely associated with Johnny Carson. What is not protected by law is not taken from public use. Research reveals no case in which the right of publicity has been extended to phrases or other things which are merely associated with an individual and are not part of his name, likeness, achievements, identifying characteristics or actual performances. Both the policies behind the right of publicity and countervailing interests and considerations indicate that such an extension should not be made.
I. Policies Behind Right of Publicity
The three primary policy considerations behind the right of publicity are succinctly stated in Hoffman, Limitations on the Right of Publicity, 28 Bull. Copr. Soc'y, 111, 116-22 (1980). First, "the right of publicity vindicates the economic interests of celebrities, enabling those whose achievements have imbued their identities with pecuniary value to profit from their fame." Id. 116; Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co.,
None of the above-mentioned policy arguments supports the extension of the right of publicity to phrases or other things which are merely associated with an individual. First, the majority is awarding Johnny Carson a windfall, rather than vindicating his
The second policy goal of fostering the production of creative and intellectual works is not met by the majority's rule because in awarding publicity rights in a phrase neither created by him nor performed by him, economic reward and protection is divorced from personal incentive to produce on the part of the protected and benefited individual. Johnny Carson is simply reaping the rewards of the time, effort and work product of others.
Third, the majority's extension of the right of publicity to include the phrase "Here's Johnny" which is merely associated with Johnny Carson is not needed to provide alternatives to existing legal avenues for redressing wrongful conduct. The existence of a cause of action under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1125(a) (1976) and Michigan common law does much to undercut the need for policing against unfair competition through an additional legal remedy such as the right of publicity. The majority has concluded, and I concur, that the District Court was warranted in finding that there was not a reasonable likelihood that members of the public would be confused by appellee's use of the "Here's Johnny" trademark on a product as dissimilar to those licensed by Johnny Carson as portable toilets. In this case, this eliminates the argument of wrongdoing. Moreover, the majority's extension of the right of publicity to phrases and other things merely associated with an individual is not conditioned upon wrongdoing and would apply with equal force in the case of an unknowing user. With respect to unjust enrichment, because a celebrity such as Johnny Carson is himself enriched by phrases and other things associated with him in which he has made no personal investment of time, money or effort, another user of such a phrase or thing may be enriched somewhat by such use, but this enrichment is not at Johnny Carson's expense. The policies behind the right of publicity are not furthered by the majority's holding in this case.
II. Countervailing Interests and Considerations
The right of publicity, whether tied to name, likeness, achievements, identifying characteristics or actual performances, etc. conflicts with the economic and expressive interests of others. Society's interests in free enterprise and free expression must be balanced against the interests of an individual seeking protection in the right of publicity where the right is being expanded beyond established limits. In addition, the right to publicity may be subject to federal
A. Federal Policy: Monopolies
Protection under the right of publicity creates a common law monopoly that removes items, words and acts from the public domain. That federal policy favors free enterprise was recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in National Society of Professional Engineers v. United States,
Protection under the right of publicity confers a monopoly on the protected individual that is potentially broader, offers fewer protections and potentially competes with federal statutory monopolies. As an essential part of three federal monopoly rights, copyright, trademark and patents, notice to the public is required in the form of filing with the appropriate governmental office and use of an appropriate mark. This apprises members of the public of the nature and extent of what is being removed from the public domain and subject to claims of infringement. The right of publicity provides limited notice to the public of the extent of the monopoly right to be asserted, if one is to be asserted at all. As the right of privacy is expanded beyond protections of name, likeness and actual performances, which provide relatively objective notice to the public of the extent of an individual's rights, to more subjective attributes such as achievements and identifying characteristics, the public's ability to be on notice of a common law monopoly right, if one is even asserted by a given famous individual, is severely diminished. Protecting phrases and other things merely associated with an individual provides virtually no notice to the public at all of what is claimed to be protected. By ensuring the invocation of the adjudicative process whenever the commercial use of a phrase or other associated thing is considered to have been wrongfully appropriated, the public is left to act at their peril. The result is a chilling effect on commercial innovation and opportunity.
Also unlike the federal statutory monopolies, this common law monopoly right offers no protections against the monopoly existing for an indefinite time or even in perpetuity. See Memphis Development, supra (right not inheritable under Tennessee law); Lugosi v. Universal Pictures,
B. Federal Policy: Free Expression and Use of Intellectual Property
The first amendment protects the freedom of speech, including commercial speech. U.S. Const. amend. I; Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar,
Apart from the possibility of outright federal preemption, public policy requires that the public's interest in free enterprise and free expression take precedence over any interest Johnny Carson may have in a phrase associated with his person.
III. Case Law
The common law right of publicity has been held to protect various aspects of an individual's identity from commercial exploitation:
The three cases cited by the majority in reaching their conclusion that the right of privacy should be extended to encompass phrases and other things merely associated with an individual and one other case merit further comment. Hirsch v. S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.,
In Ali, Muhammad Ali sought protection under the right of publicity for the unauthorized use of his picture in Playgirl Magazine. Ali is a "likeness" case reinforced by the context in which the likeness occurs and further bolstered by a phrase, "the Greatest," commonly stated by Ali regarding himself. The essence of the case, and the unauthorized act from which Ali claims protection, is a drawing of a nude black man seated in the corner of a boxing ring with both hands taped and outstretched resting on the ropes on either side. The Ali court found that even a cursory inspection of the picture suggests that the facial characteristics of the man are those of Ali. The court stated: "The cheekbones, broad nose and wideset brown eyes, together with the distinctive smile and close cropped black hair are recognizable as the features of ... [Ali]." Ali supra, 726. Augmenting this likeness and reinforcing its identification with Ali was the context in which the likeness appeared — a boxing ring. The court found that identification of the individual depicted as Ali was further implied by the accompanying phrase "the Greatest." Id. 727. Based on these facts, the court had no difficulty concluding that the drawing was Ali's portrait or picture. See id. 726. To the extent the majority uses the phrase "the Greatest" to support its position that the right of publicity encompasses phrases or other things which are merely associated with an individual, they misstate the law of Ali. Once again, Ali is clearly a "likeness" case. To the extent the likeness was not a photographic one free from all ambiguity, identification with Muhammad Ali was reinforced by context and a phrase "the Greatest" stated by Ali about himself. The result in that case is so dependent on the identifying features in the drawing and the boxing context in which the man is portrayed that the phrase "the Greatest" may not be severed from this whole and the legal propositions developed by the Ali court in response to the whole applied to the phrase alone. To be analogous, a likeness of Johnny Carson would be required in addition to the words "Here's Johnny" suggesting
Motschenbacher, the third case cited by the majority, is an "identifying characteristics" case. Motschenbacher, a professional driver of racing cars who is internationally known, sought protection in the right of publicity for the unauthorized use of a photograph of his racing car, slightly altered, in a televised cigarette commercial. Although he was in fact driving the car at the time it was photographed, his facial features are not visible in the commercial. Motschenbacher, supra, 822. The Ninth Circuit found as a matter of California law, that the right of publicity extended to protect the unauthorized use of photographs of Motschenbacher's racing car as one of his identifying characteristics. Identifying characteristics, such as Motschenbacher's racing car, are not synonymous with phrases or other things which are merely associated with an individual. In Motschenbacher, the Ninth Circuit determined that the car driver had "consistently `individualized' his cars to set them apart from those of other drivers and to make them more readily identifiable as his own." Id. Since 1966, each car had a distinctive narrow white pinstripe appearing on no other car. This decoration has always been in the same place on the car bodies, which have uniformly been red. In addition, his racing number "11" has always been against an oval background in contrast to the circular white background used by other drivers. Id. In the commercial, the photo of Motschenbacher's car was altered so that the number "11" was changed to "71," a spoiler with the name "Winston" was added, and other advertisements removed. The remainder of the individualized decorations remained the same. Id. Despite these alterations, the Ninth Circuit determined that car possessed identifying characteristics peculiar to Motschenbacher. Id. 827. This case is factually and legally distinguishable from the case on appeal. Motschenbacher's racing car was not merely associated with him but was the vehicle, literally and figuratively, by which he achieved his fame. The identifying characteristics, in the form of several decorations peculiar to his car, were the product of his personal time, energy, effort and expense and as such are inextricably interwoven with him as his individual work product, rather than being merely associated with him. Furthermore, the number and combination of the peculiar decorations on his cars results in a set of identifying characteristics, which although inanimate, are unique enough to resist duplication other than by intentional copying. This uniqueness provides notice to the public of what is claimed as part of his publicity right, as does an individual's name, likeness or actual performance, and narrowly limits the scope of his monopoly. In contrast to Motschenbacher, Johnny Carson's fame as a comedian and talk show host is severable from the phrase with which he is associated, "Here's Johnny." This phrase is not Johnny Carson's "thumbprint"; it is not his work product; it is not original; it is a common, simple combination of a direct object, a contracted verb and a common first name; divorced from context, it is two dimensional and ambiguous. It can hardly be said to be a symbol or synthesis, i.e., a tangible "expression" of the "idea," of Johnny Carson the comedian and talk show host, as Motschenbacher's racing car was the tangible expression of the man.
Finally, Lombardo v. Doyle, Dane & Bernbach, Inc.,
Accordingly, neither policy nor case law supports the extension of the right of publicity to encompass phrases and other things merely associated with an individual as in this case. I would affirm the judgment of the District Court on this basis as well.
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