Since his beginnings in 1954’s Gojira, Godzilla has become one of film’s longest-lived and most loved monsters (to the extent that monsters can be loved). In the 60 years since his inception, he has managed to withstand attacks from the world’s military might, battles with fellow monsters, and poorly conceived remakes. He has proven resilient enough to find his way back to the big screen this summer to spark the imaginations of yet another generation. But his greatest nemesis over the decades has not been King Ghidorah or Mechagodzilla, but rather copyright and trademark violators.
Godzilla’s owners have never been shy about taking legal action to defend their lucrative brand. Since the early 1990’s, Toho, Ltd., the Tokyo-based proprietors of the Godzilla property, have filed 32 separate copyright and trademark lawsuits to defend the legendary lizard from those who would have misused his name and likeness. American Honda’s float in the 1991 Rose Parade sparked Toho’s first suit; their entry featured Godzilla in a top hat and colorful tuxedo jacket, a combination that, while classy, also infringed upon Toho’s intellectual property. Honda attempted to deny the accusation in the year-long court case that followed, claiming that their creature wasn’t Godzilla but rather a dinosaur, despite their advertising and internal communication referring to the character by name. Indeed, many defendants in suits to follow tried to claim their depictions featured a dinosaur. Given that these depictions often featured a creature with spikes running along its spine set amongst a cityscape, that defense usually proved to be a flimsy as Tokyo’s skyline.
Among others who have tried to misappropriate the Godzilla brand is a wine called Cabzilla; a rapper named Pharoahe Monch who misued Godzilla’s theme music in addition to having a dog toy called Tuffzilla; the original “Sim City” computer game; Honda (again); and Subway. Currently, the Godzilla brand is embroiled in a suit against a Louisiana brewer that produced a beer called Mechahopzilla, featuring a giant robot lizard on the can that perhaps too closely resembles Godzilla’s mechanized rival Mechagodzilla. The brewer is attempting to use the same defense that won Sears Roebuck a decision when sued by Toho in 1981 over their “Bagzilla” trash bags, claiming the use was humorous parody.
As the Godzilla franchise once again ascends, Toho and its legal team will need to remain vigilant in brand protection efforts of their highly-profitable monster from those who might try to capitalize on the creature’s most recent star turn. Fans can rest easier knowing that the big guy’s future is secure. Now that’s news worth dancing to.
Are you protecting your highly-profitable monsters? And by highly-profitable mosters, we mean your intellectual property...