Germany Got Away With Making Duff Beer From The Simpsons, Unauthorized
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With their ultra-recognizable Duff beer brand, The Simpsons has long had a huge merchandising opportunity—an opportunity they mostly declined to exploit. True, you could buy themed "Duff" beer at Universal Studios park (and maybe you'll be able to do the same at Disney World sometime), but they didn't go all the way and produce a tie-in beer for retail. Matt Groening said that would be irresponsible, since The Simpsons has always been so popular with children.
So, with the show leaving that money on the table, what would happen if you stepped in and tried selling Duff beer yourself? Many different people have tried, with varying results.
If you tried it in the US, you can expect lawyers to shut you down quickly. In Mexico, however, someone started selling Duff beer in 2006, got a local trademark, and expanded without any problems. In New Zealand, a brewery started making Duff beer in 1992, and this had nothing to do with the show—the owner was simply named Gavin Duff. Fox came down on him and got him to change the name of his product to McDuffs.
The strangest case came out of Germany. A company called Duff Beer UG made Duff beer, using the exact logo used in The Simpsons. In our non-expert legal opinion, this was trademark violation, a way to capitalize on the Simpsons brand. But when Fox sued, a court sided with Duff Beer UG. Fox had never trademarked "Duff" for beverages specifically, so they had no right to claim ownership of the brand. They had no competing actual Duff beer of their own, so they were losing no business even if buyers mistook the German beer for a Simpsons tie-in.
Duff Beer UG celebrated ... and soon had to file a lawsuit, unsuccessfully, against a second German company that was also now selling Duff beer.
In the end, Fox appealed and won the right to the trademark, because they did start selling their own tie-in beer, but for a while, Duff Beer UG sold their product widely, even internationally. This caused some problems in France, which has strict product placement laws and now viewed episodes of The Simpsons as ads for the German beer. The solution? France blurred the Duff logo in the episodes they aired. Even episodes that were saying Duff beer is disgusting or that Duff bottles contain human heads.
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