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Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), summary judgment shall be granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. To support denial of summary judgment, an issue of fact in dispute must be both genuine and material, i.e., one upon which a reasonable fact finder could base a verdict for the non-moving party and one which is essential to establishing the claim. When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. The court's consideration of the facts must be in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment and all reasonable inferences from the facts must be drawn in favor of that party as well.
Plaintiff, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc., an integrated media and entertainment company, filed a 17 count amended complaint against defendant, Big Dog Holdings, Inc., a marketer and retailer for copyright infringement (Counts I through VI), and trademark infringement under § 32 (15 U.S.C.S. § 1114) of the Lanham Act (Count VII). Plaintiff argued that the defendant retailer exploited and traded on its intellectual property. Defendant retailer contended that its merchandise qualified as parodied or some other form of expressive statements about the company and its wrestling characters that entitled it to First Amendment protection. Further, defendant contended that, whether analyzed under trademark, dilution, copyright, or right of publicity law, its merchandise constituted a permissible means of expression. The retailer moved for summary judgment and was granted.
Should the defendant’s motion for summary judgment be granted?
The motion for summary judgment filed by defendant was granted. The Court found that defendant’s merchandise parodies plaintiff’s widely popular characters and phrases, and therefore, the property is entitled to the free expression protections of the First Amendment. Moreover, defendant’s merchandise had the intention and effect to amuse rather than confuse the public, and the Court was unable to find a likelihood of consumer confusion. Defendant parodies convey a simple message that business and product images need not always be taken too seriously, and we are reminded that we are free to laugh at the images and associations linked with these icons. Denying the defendant the opportunity to poke fun at the plaintiff’s characters and symbols that have become such a major component in today's entertainment media, would constitute a serious curtailment of a protected form of expression.