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The Doors tell a Paris Bar No More! Remove The Doors or Close Yours: Unauthorized use Amounts to Trademark Infringement

[iframe http://www.barlezardking.com/]

(Scroll side to side to see the whole joint).

A friend of mine e-mailed me an article on Saturday about the rock band The Doors having sent a cease & desist (C&D) letter to the Lezard King bar in Paris, France that displays Doors memorabilia.  The bar’s website is depicted above (the audio on this site never seems to cease, so please enjoy Riders on the Storm orchestra-style (over and over, and over again) or turn down the volume on your computer — sorry!  Actually if you scroll all the way to the right at the very top right of the video there is a small volume level/ and the word Crouper/close, click that and it will silence the music.).  These are strange days indeed.  Or are they?

On June 10, 2011 the AP reported that the Doors’ counsel, Anthony Keats, sent Lezard King bar owner — Christophe Maillet — a letter on April 21, 2011 giving him 90 days to disassociate his restaurant with the band, which Maillet claims may force him to close his doors altogether.  When I initially learned about this dispute, my gut reaction was that it’s just another case of trademark bullying (just what we all need!), but then I learned more about the facts.

The more I learn, the more I believe the Doors were right to bring the mallet down on Maillet.  What types of facts would lead me to this conclusion?  Well . . .

This isn’t a case of a fan simply displaying some cool artifacts in his Parisian bar.  Rather, almost everything in this bar appears to be connected with the b(r)and the Doors.  First of all, the name of the bar, Lezard King, was Jim Morrison’s nickname.  According to the AP article, Maillet used the French spelling of lizard (lezard) to avoid copyright issues.  (Really?  Given everything else he’s got going on, it’s kinda hard to believe that this guy thought replacing an “i” with an “e” in the word lizard was his ticket to fly under the radar of the official Doors enterprise.)  Secondly, the bar doesn’t just have memorabilia on the walls, the walls are plastered in larger-than-life (just shy of the real Jim Morrison) photographs of Morrison and the Doors and the bar tap is a bust of Morrison.  Thirdly, the drinks are named after Doors songs.  Fourthly, the bar’s promotional website plays a composition by The Doors while its imagery focuses on Jim Morrison and The Doors.  Finally, Maillet admits that he didn’t ask permission because he presumed that the answer would be no.  Now that seems pretty silly to me, cause I think the answer might have been yes, albeit under a signed licensing agreement with an established fee and the Doors’ right (obligation) to exercise quality control over the establishment.

After all, lots of musicians have restaurants:

[framed_box]
Cabo Wabo Cantina Sammy Hagar
Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett
Teany Moby
Southern Hospitality Justin Timberlake
Justin’s P. Diddy (Sean Combs)
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill Toby Keith
Shady Grove Lounge Hootie & the Blowfish
Spotted Pig Gastropub Jay-Z
Buffalo Boss Jay-Z
Alice Coopertown Alice Cooper
Gladys & Ron’s Chicken & Waffles Gladys Knight & Ron Winans
Straits Ludacris
[/framed_box]

Given the vast extent of the Lezard King’s use of Doors imagery, music & song titles, I think a reasonable consumer would believe (erroneously) that this establishment is offered or authorized by The Doors enterprise, when in fact it is not.  That’s the hallmark of trademark infringement, and while it may give Maillet the roadhouse blues, perhaps he should have considered what would happen when the music’s over.

So, now that you know all the facts, what do you think?

Trust your gut.  If you think you might get sued for what you’re doing, you’re probably right.  Whether or not a suit is warranted is not the right question.  Rather, you should be thinking about whether a suit is likely, and if so, how likely & relative to your level of acceptable risk?  Discuss your options with your counsel and be sure you understand them before you break on through to the other side . . . of an IP lawsuit, that is.

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