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Yes, this blog post is about Tiger King.

April 10, 2020 | Intellectual Property

As the title suggests, this blog post focuses on Netflix’ hit documentary/series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”. If you haven’t heard about it you’re behind the curve – the show only had 34 million unique viewers in the first ten (10) days after release. The series is filled with exactly what you would expect – murder, mayhem, and madness – and focuses on Joseph Maldonado-Passage (or “Joe Exotic”), the owner of a “zoo” and his dispute with Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary.

Although the show itself breezes past a whole array of legal issues including criminal law, animal rights, ownership, and business issues, etc. it also involves several massive trademark and Copyright infringement lawsuits between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. In the early 2010s, Joe Exotic adopted numerous logos and images that were quite similar to those created and used by Carole Baskin and Big Cat Rescue. Joe Exotic also began posting pictures and content taken and owned by Carole Baskin. Carole Baskin then filed a series of lawsuits to enforce her intellectual property rights. As those who have watched the show will know, Carole Baskin ended up with a $1 million judgment against Joe Exotic (no spoilers – this is a minor plot point in the show).

In general, damages in trademark infringement lawsuits are very rare. Typically a party enforcing their trademarks will simply ask the infringing party to rebrand and not use the enforcing party’s trademarks moving forward. An award for trademark infringement in the amount of $1 million would be quite rare indeed.

However, damages for Copyright infringement are much more common. Copyright damages can include any actual damages suffered by a plaintiff, or they can include statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed.

One of the lawsuits also included claims for “unfair competition”, which generally refers to a state law claim that provides broad protection to entities believing their competitors are competing unfairly. For example, California’s unfair competition statute covers “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act prohibited by Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17500) of Part 3 of Division 7 of the Business and Professions Code.” See Cal. Business and Professions Code § 17200. The statute in California is broad and encompassing and can serve as the basis for actual damages.

Remedies for trademark infringement, Copyright infringement, or unfair competition can also include an injunction. An injunction is a judicial order that restrains a person or entity from continuing an action that damages the party seeking the injunction.

Having said the foregoing, a judgment of $1 million is fairly large. At the end of the day, Joe Exotic’s brilliant plan to imitate Carole Baskins and Big Cat Rescue may have been the beginning of the end (again, no spoilers). The phrase “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” may be common – but imitating a competitor could literally cost you millions.