If you've ever rented a movie from Redbox, you have likely seen some choices that bear a suspicious resemblance to films currently playing in theaters. For example, last holiday season, many Redbox kiosks offered a movie called "Age of the Hobbits" at the same time Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" was in theaters.
These movies are called "mockbusters." They're usually shot very quickly on a shoestring budget and titled in a way that calls to mind other movies, for example "Abraham Lincoln vs. Vampires" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." The studios behind them allege they're legitimate and original works of cinema, but critics complain they're meant to trick customers into thinking they're renting a mainstream movie.
Until recently, major movie studios did not take much legal action against mockbusters because it simply wasn't worth the time and expense. That all might be changing, though.
Recently, Disney filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a movie studio called Phase 4 films.Phase 4 had released a movie called "Frozen Land" and Disney felt like its title and marketing were too close to the title and marketing for its holiday hit "Frozen." Disney alleged that Phase 4's film was originally called "The Legend of Sarila," and that months before it was released (at the same time as "Frozen,") Phase 4 re-titled it and re-did the marketing to mimic that of "Frozen."
Now, film titles cannot be trademarked, but a law called The Lanham Act prevents parties from selling items that are meant to confused consumers as to the source of origin.
The reason we're writing about this is that it's something of a newer area in trademark law. Intellectual property issues like this interest us because we focus on helping startups and small businesses understand and get acclimated to the U.S. intellectual property regime. For more on what we do, please feel free to contact us.