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Godzilla’s Litigation Battles

Gozilla may be the fire- and box office-eating monster, but he has also spawned a raft of lawsuits and legal threats from his owners, the Japanese-owned Toho Company, which has fought off
as many interlopers (read that as counterfeiters and major-league movie mogals) as he has cities and other perceived opponents.

The corporates beaten by the Godzilla-magnates include such corporate mortals as Honda Motor Company and Comcast among others, seeking the monster’s name for everthing from movies to merchandising to music to booze. And the Godzilla owners have batted them off as King Kong might with bi-planes.


As Associated Press report, the Godzilla litigation has kept Godzilla’s brand thriving and helped pave the way for commercial and merchandising tie-ins that accompanied the monster’s return to the big screen Friday after a 10-year hiatus. Godzilla’s image is for sale, but permission is needed.

Toho’s attorneys use copyright and trademark law as effectively as Godzilla uses his tail and claws to topple buildings and swat opponents. Their court injunctions have permanently whacked music, books and movies from store shelves.

Since the mid-1980s, Chuck Shephard of the Los Angeles law firm of Greenberg Glusker has been Godzilla’s lead lawyer, filing suits like the one against a wine called Cabzilla that resulted in a winemaker being forced to dump its stock of Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Godzilla is just as protected as Mickey Mouse,” said Shephard in a recent interview. Toho’s lucrative licensing efforts, which include endorsements, toys, comic books, video games and even official wine and sake brands, require the company to be vigilant against copycats, he said.

Since 1991, Toho’s attorneys have filed at least 32 copyright and trademark lawsuits and countless warning letters, gaining court injunctions in a quarter of the cases. Most others have resulted in settlement agreements that while confidential, result in products disappearing from the marketplace.

Since the late 1990s, Shephard has worked Toho cases with attorney Aaron Moss, whose high-end Century City office is cluttered with a mix of legal filings and official and unofficial Godzilla merchandise.

Some of the spoils of court victories include a now out-of-circulation copy of rapper Pharoahe Monch’s 1999 album that improperly used Godzilla’s theme music and a 2-foot-tall dog toy called Tuffzilla.

“Toho is not out there to extract a pound of flesh,” Moss said. “They need to protect their brand.”

Both attorneys said they carefully evaluate when to file lawsuits, and Toho trusts their judgment. Litigation often starts with a cease-and-desist letter, and a company’s reaction to it often determines whether the case escalates, they said.

“When you have something as famous as Barbie or as Godzilla, you’re well-served to protect that,” said Larry Iser, a partner at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert.

Iser represents toymaker Mattel and noted that trademarks for some popular products such as the trampoline and escalator have fallen into the public domain, making them easier and cheaper for companies to copy.

But Godzilla’s trademarks could last forever if they’re properly handled, Iser said.

Godzilla debuted in Japan in the 1954 hit film “Gojira” but has proven to be just as popular in the United States. That’s made him an attractive spokesmonster.

He’s appeared in ads for Snickers candy bars, Nike shoes, Doritos chips, as well as in marketing for the original “Simcity” computer game, Honda minivans, and Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” specials. Yet those last three uses weren’t properly licensed and prompted Toho to sue.

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