Rebel With A Twitter Cause: CMG Sues Twitter For Ownership Of @JamesDean Account

James DeanLast Friday, The Hollywood Reporter disclosed a lawsuit filed by CMG Worldwide against Twitter.

CMG, a firm that manages the commercial real estate of deceased celebrities, is suing the social media site along with five John Does, whose identifications are protected by Twitter, for unauthorized use of James Dean’s name and image.

Representing the James Dean estate, CMG’s lawsuit is an an attempt to close the @JamesDean Twitter account which is managed by one of the John Does listed in the case.

When asked about the lawsuit, CMG’s CEO Mark Roesler claimed it is about ownership, and the ability to control messaging.

“As the rightful owner of James Dean trademark and right of publicity, our client has to maintain control over how James Dean’s name and image are portrayed and used as required by law,” said Roesler in an email to Marketing Land, “Without ownership and control over the account, we are at the mercy of whims and moods of the person using the account. It is, therefore, less of an issue of damages, but more of an issue of ownership and control to streamline the messages that many would view as the voice of our client.”

Marketing Land exchanged emails with the person tweeting from the @JamesDean account who asked to remain anonymous.

Managing the account since 2009, @JamesDean said they were contacted more than three years ago by a David Piechocki from CMG who asked if @JamesDean would continue updating and managing the Twitter feed.

Earlier this week, @JamesDean tweeted communications from CMG’s David Piechocki sent in June 2010.

 

Agreeing to CMG’s request, @JamesDean claims to have sent account login info, but then never again heard from David Piechocki or anyone else at CMG.

After not hearing from CMG for more than three years, @JamesDean said they received an email from a CMG attorney this week.

“I received an email February 10 from one of the attorneys named in their complaint…alleging that it was their understanding that they did not receive a response to our communication, and that they ‘are interested in reviving those discussions’ with me,” said @JamesDean, “I find it hard to believe that Mark Roesler at CMG was not aware of the email exchange between Piechocki and me, since CMG considers the James Dean estate one of their most important clients.”

When asked about the exchange between @JamesDean and CMG’s David Piechocki in 2010, Roesler says, “As far as the infringer’s response…we were willing to let him stay involved with doing the Tweets for James Dean, but it was necessary for him to transfer ownership of that. No brand owner would ever let someone else own their intellectual property rights.”

Twitter did not respond to Marketing Land’s requests for comments on the lawsuit, but Roesler shared Twitter’s response to his firm after they asked the social media site to close down the @JamesDean Twitter account:

We’ve researched the reported account and determined that it is not in violation of Twitter’s Trademark Policy. The account is not being used in a way that is misleading or confusing with regard to its brand, location or business affiliation.

Twitter does not have a username reservation policy. Users are free to select any name for their account provided they do not violate Twtter’s Terms of Service or Rules.

Roesler disagrees with Twitter’s response.

“This is no different than corporations like McDonalds or media outlets like USA Today or sports leagues like the NBA or the NFL who, like almost all brands, business or sport entities today, use social media as an important element to protect, market and maintain their brand and their message to the public,” wrote Roesler in his email to Marketing Land, “James Dean is no different in that regard and it is crucial for us to recover the ownership and control of that account.”

Roesler went on to say that Twitter is famous because it offers a platform where celebrities can communicate with their friends.

“We are simply asking that ‘deceased celebrities’ get that same protection,” writes Roesler.

Currently, the @JamesDean Twitter account has just over 8,000 followers, and now includes the disclaimer, “Not associated with James Dean, Inc.”

@JamesDean said the only contact they have received from Twitter was a direct message.

“The DM [direct message] sent on February 7 from Twitter @Safety merely informed me that I needed to make sure the Twitter account’s email address is up to date, because they needed to contact me,” said @JamesDean.

When asked about their motivation for starting the account, @JamesDean said they have never profited financially from it, “I wanted to see that the James Dean Twitter account was one respectful of James Dean’s legacy, and Mr. Piechocki acknowledged that.”

In a USA Today report, IU law professor Gerard Magliocca said the lawsuit was, “A first-of-its-kind case,” claiming there was, “A First Amendment argument that could be raised” by the person operating the Twitter account.

Whether its a matter of free speech or estate ownership is now up for the courts to decide.

According to American Bar Association Journal, CMG initially filed its case on December 31, 2013  in Indiana’s Hamilton Superior Court, but, USA Today reported Twitter made a transfer motion on February 7, and the lawsuit has been moved from the Hamilton Superior Court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Post Script: This story was updated to clarify CMG’s lawsuit was against Twitter and five “John Does” whose identification is protected by the social media site.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Legal: Copyright & Trademark | Top News | Twitter: Accounts & Profiles | Twitter: Business Issues | Twitter: Legal

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About The Author: is Third Door Media's General Assignment Correspondent, and reports on the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs.com, SoftwareCEO.com, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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  • http://docsheldon.com/ Doc Sheldon

    I would imagine that the legal eagles at CMG are most concerned with protecting their right to claim, by not waiving it by inaction.Seems like they could have tried a little harder to handle it with @JamesDean, rather than filing a suit, though.

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