Take a page from Dikembe Mutombo and don’t mess with the Africans, especially Nigerians. 🙂 Basketball fans where are you guys? Don’t leave me hanging. Chinua Achebe delivers a “not in my house!” finger wagging Dikembe Mutumbo block on 50 Cent’s attempt to use Achebe’s book title for Fiddy’s new movie.
Chinua Achebe, the immensely popular and iconic Nigerian novelist, poet, professor and critic, recently rejected American rapper 50 Cent’s offer of $1million dollars to use the title “Things Fall Apart” for 50 Cent’s film. 50 Cent has subsequently changed his film title to “All Things Fall Apart.”You get to read the story below, very soon. But first . . . let’s get the real legal meat and potatoes issues here on the table.
What is the Legal Scoop?
Two areas of the law I want to quickly touch: Copyright and Trademark Laws.
1. Does Chinua Achebe have Copyright Protection in his Book Title “Things Fall Apart?”
No he doesn’t. In pertinent part, “Titles, names, and slogans . . . are not subject to copyright protection. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or if it lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright.” – US Copyright Law
Why? Because the result would be absurd if it did. To say citizens cannot name their songs, books, movies and what have you “Things Fall Apart” because someone else already did, would yield a very difficult society to live and function in.
If USA Copyright Laws do not protect Achebe’s Book title, “Things Fall Apart,” then what are his options?
2. Achebe can use Trademark Law and Unfair Competition Laws to protect his book title.
3. What is a Trademark? The bottom line gist is that Trademark law protects the public from confusion. End of story. Frankly, seeing 50 Cent’s movie named ‘Things Fall Apart’ in no way, shape or form confused me with Achebe’s book. It is like night and day.I also doubt that this new generation of movie goers who do not read as much would also remember Chinua Achebe’s book. But, hey, I might be completely off on my conclusion.
To answer the question on what trademark law is, a trademark is any word, phrase, logo, symbol, color or sound that is used to identify products or services in the marketplace. It can be your business name that you use to sell your product and services and your product or service name.
When you create your book title, phrase, logo, symbol etc. and start using it, you have a trademark. Do you have to register your trademark? No. If you register it, you enhance your rights when you seek to enforce it against infringers.
The person who uses the mark first, is the senior user. The subsequent user is a junior user.
When Can you Use a Person’s Trademark Without Infringing on their Trademark Rights?
-Editorial purposes (Journalists, bloggers, media etc)
-Accurate comparative product statements
When Can you NOT Use a Person’s Trademark ?
-When you use it for commercial purposes without permission AND it creates confusion. In our case, Achebe can make this argument. Is it a strong argument? I doubt it. Those who would probably watch a 50 Cent movie have probably never even heard of Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.”
-When your use is commercial and would TARNISH the image of the trademark. This is probably the issue Chinua Achebe has with 50 Cent.
Recap: “Things Fall Apart” can be used in a song, film or book because it does not enjoy copyright protection law. However, if the title is trademarked, you cannot use the title in a way that would cause the public to be confused or to think Chinua Achebe’s book is associated with you, or in a way that tarnishes Achebe’s reputation.
UNFAIR COMPETITION LAWS
I did a cursory search on the USPTO website and found an attempted registered trademark for “Things Fall Apart” by a music band in November of 2004, which was subsequently abandoned. I did not see a US Federal registered trademark for Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” Although there very well could be. I suppose if there was, Achebe’s legal team and press releases and reports would have indicated that.
Assume you have no registered trademark, is that the end of it if someone infringes on your mark? No. You can sue using US Unfair competition laws under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. The argument here hinges on the fact that your infringer is using the title in a way that is likely to confuse the public.
FYI: This is some interesting stuff and if you are even more interested in how cases like this shake down, see the ongoing legal drama in the Madonna case.
Check out the story below:
“50 Cent has recently faced a legal challenge from Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.
One of the most powerful performers in the United States, 50 Cent has made a fortune out of his image as a reformed criminal. Boasting genuine gunshot wounds, there are few who would cross the media mogul.
However Nigerian author Chinua Achebe seems to be made of sterner stuff. The author is one of the finest writers in the English language, with countless awards and seminal works to his name.
Achebe was recently forced to act after 50 Cent confirmed that he was working on a film titled ‘Things Fall Apart’. The rapper was set to write and star in the movie, which is already on the release schedules . . .”
Clash has the full story.
Photocredit: Google Image
FASHIONENTLAW blog, authored by Ms. Uduak, was first established in 2010. It is now incorporated, in 2021, as part of the FASHIONENTLAW LAW FIRM blog. The blog is for informational purposes only and provides legal commentary and analysis on the intersection of mainstream America pop culture and the law. It also provides updates on Ms. Uduak’s speaking engagements and press activities. For inquiries on topics covered please email (email@example.com).