We don't want to get into some big debate about intellectual property rights -- it's full of legal gray areas, and we're no lawyers. But we are confident in saying that some trademark and copyright claims are downright fucking ridiculous. For example ...
#6. Haagen-Dazs Insists It Owns All Fake Scandinavian Words
It's a well-known fact that imported stuff is always better than domestic. With that in mind, is it any surprise that Haagen-Dazs ice cream remains one of the most successful brands in your grocer's frozen department? With its Danish sophistication, European subtlety, and totally-badass-metal umlaut, it runs caramel swirls around domestic swill like Ben & Jerry's. Wait, no, never mind. Not only has Haagen-Dazs always been an American brand, but it turns out that "Haagen" and "Dazs" aren't even real Danish words (or real words in any language).
"Holbaek" and "Koge," however, are real Danish cities and are delicious.
In fact, it's so not-Scandinavian that the company was founded in the Bronx in 1959 by Polish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus when they put some random letters together to make a name that sounded vaguely Scandinavian to their ears. That no one lodged any complaints about their deliberate deception is amazing; that they tried to sue someone else for doing the exact same thing is mind-blowing.
It happened in 1980, when Richard Smith had the same idea they did and began selling his own domestic ice cream under the name "Frusen Gladje" -- which, shockingly enough, are real words ("frusen gladje" means "frozen joy" in Swedish). Haagen-Dazs, no doubt filled with rage that someone had had the presence of mind to pick up an English-Swedish dictionary, took them to court over the right to pretend to be Scandinavian.
Ah yes, the 34th Amendment.
No, really. The lawsuit alleged that Frusen Gladje had stolen several of their ideas, including (a) pretending to be European, (b) using a map of Scandinavia in their advertising, and (c) including serving directions on the package (seriously).
The court ruled against Haagen-Dazs on the grounds of "unclean hands" -- a bit of legalese that essentially means "Seriously? You're asking the government to protect your right to lie to consumers? You're not a bank." Frusen Gladje was later sold to Kraft, and then Unilever, before it disappeared. Fortunately, everyone learned a valuable lesson, and no American business has ever deceived the public ever again.
#5. Only Spike Lee Is Allowed to Call Things "Spike"
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The Nashville Network started out as a country-music cable channel you probably don't remember. Eventually, they gave up on country music, changed their name to TNN, and switched to more profitable programming about boobs and explosions. In a move to further distance themselves from the past, they eventually settled on the cartoonishly masculine name "Spike TV."
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A subtle shift.
Now, you may have recognized the name "Spike" as the name of sometimes-acclaimed film director Spike Lee. You may have also recognized it as the name of director Spike Jonze, or that vampire from Buffy, or millions of dogs, or those things they put railroads together with. Really, there are a lot of things called "Spike." But it was Spike Lee who, in a moment of vanity that would have impressed even Carly Simon, said to himself, "No, this has to be about me," and filed suit.
To be fair, he'd already won $120 billion from the World Volleyball Federation.
His reasoning was that he didn't want his name associated with lowbrow programming, because when you see "Spike TV" in your cable guide, what else would you assume but that it's 24 consecutive hours of Spike Lee movies?
It's not terribly hard to understand why Spike Lee -- director of classy films like She Hate Me, in which a guy knocks up lesbians for money -- wanted to avoid sullying his name with the round-the-clock Baywatch reruns on Spike TV. And Lee did win a temporary injunction against the network shortly before everyone realized that it was frivolous -- it turns out you can't claim a trademark on a nickname as generic as "Spike." Lee and Spike TV settled out of court -- Spike TV got to keep their name, and Lee was not forced to change his back to "Shelton."
#4. Games Workshop Claims to Own the Concept of Space Marines
Science fiction is a genre based almost entirely on the theme of people doing the things that people usually do, except in space. Given that people love space and love explosions, it took about 40 seconds after the invention of sci-fi for someone to type the words "space marines" on their steampunk typewriter. The term goes back at least to 1932, and the trope was made iconic by books like Starship Troopers and films like Aliens. We also have it on good authority that there's something called an "Xbox" that does nothing but play games starring space marines.
In fairness, those space marines don't spit acid or wield chainswords, so screw 'em.
But in 1987 -- more than half a century after the sci-fi world had combined the chocolate of "space" with the peanut butter of "marines" -- Games Workshop published a science fiction strategy game called Warhammer 40,000. One of the character classes in it was called "space marine," which Games Workshop quickly trademarked. From that moment forward, anyone else publishing a sci-fi tabletop game had to fill it with space seamen instead. Or something.
Twenty years later, Games Workshop decided to enter the fiction market and were shocked to find that fiction about space marines already existed. The only reasonable thing to do was sue these bastards who stole their idea of marines in space. The biggest dick move on the thieves' part was that they apparently used time travel to do it.
Unfortunately for Games Workshop, they apparently knew nothing at all about sci-fi literature. They could have sued any one of the hundreds of authors who used the words "space marine" in their books. They could have sued freaking Microsoft for publishing a line of Halo books. People love it when Microsoft gets sued.
Also, Microsoft has money.
Instead, they went after M.C.A. Hogarth, a stay-at-home mom making ends meet by self-publishing sci-fi novels. They contacted Amazon, demanding that they take down her hilariously titled novel Spots the Space Marine: Defense of the Fiddler.
As you might imagine, this sort of corporate bullying didn't sit well with the general public. The Interwebs lit up with nerdrage, several noted sci-fi authors jumped to Hogarth's defense, and Games Workshop quietly dropped the complaint. Meanwhile, Hogarth got all sorts of free publicity for her book. Admit it, the title alone has you curious.
Clearly, this book is about a gigantic interspecies military orgy with the ant-men from Planet X.