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As a child, someone in my family always got me a subscription to Highlights
I remember looking forward to ever issue! Little did I know as a little reader that I was reading a magazine. Now, I read several magazines (all still in print, thank goodness!) on a monthly basis, including Inc., Fast Company, Mother Jones and Rolling Stone. Yup. Another admission. I love Rolling Stone (RS) magazine!
What I most enjoy about RS are Matt Taibbi‘s coverage of politics and the economy, and the magazine’s frequent coverage of intellectual property and branding issues relative to the music community. This time around though, it’s an RS advice column that’s the subject of my blog fodder. . .
When this column first made an appearance in a recent RS issue, my first thought was, “I wonder who owns the ASK OZZY brand?” (I know, most people probably wondered who in their right mind would seek advice from Ozzy Osbourne, and about what, but hey!) Now you may be wondering if magazine column titles can be protected as a trademark, and the answer is YES! While there’s no IP protection for titles of single works, the title of a series of works, including a series of magazine columns, can be protected under US trademark law.
I presume that Ozzy owns the ASK OZZY mark given that the brand depends on his Right of Publicity, but you just never know. Magazines tend to fancy exclusivity with their contributors, and one way to achieve that would be for the magazine to control the brand under which the contributor writes. Hence, Rolling Stone could own the ASK OZZY brand outright (with name portrait consent from Ozzy) and/or it could have a non-competition agreement with Ozzy under which he is prohibited from writing advice columns for other print and on-line publications.
I checked the USPTO trademark database to see if the ASK OZZY mark was applied for or registered, which it is not yet. However, a company named Monowise Limited owns 5 LIVE US trademark registrations: OZZY OSBOURNE (for various merch); OZZY (for various merch and entertainment services); OZZ RECORDS (for audio recordings); and 2 for OZZFEST (1 for performances and 1 for audio and video recordings). Another company, JOKS Productions, C/O Sharon Osbourne Management, owns 2 trademark registrations for THE OSBOURNE FAMILY (here and here), for various merch, including cigarette lighters, air fresheners, wigs, glass snow globes, talking toy dolls, and metal coin banks.
Strange as this may seem, just think how many of those THE OSBOURNE FAMILY coin banks the Osbournes can fill with the money they make from commercialization of their intellectual property assets . . . wouldn’t we all like to have that level of financial success?
Now, back to Matt Taibbi for a minute . . . He used to blog on a site called True/Slant, which was acquired by Forbes earlier this year. My guess is that Matt and Rolling Stone didn’t agree on whether he could “blog” for other publications when he first started contributing to Rolling Stone. When RS found out that Matt’s TAIBBLOG was part of a website being sold to Forbes, it negotiated with him to blog for RS exclusively. Hopefully, that made him a pile of cash. Again, this is conjecture — anyone who knows the truth, please comment below.
Brand Geek Takeaway: When contributing your intellectual capital (such as writing a column) to someone else’s endeavor, or if someone else is contributing to yours, be sure that each party’s rights and responsibilities are agreed to up front and in writing. Understand who owns what, now and in the future. Contractual ambiguities lead to lawsuits, so spell it out! If an IP ownership issue arises down the road that was not anticipated at the outset, it often makes sense to go back to the table and negotiate a deal that works for both parties in light of the current situation, rather than guessing how such issue might be treated were it read into, or excluded from, the contract. Guesses make messes, and legal messes tend to be very expensive!