After recently making headlines for their one-off million dollar album, the Wu-Tang Clan is back in the news after member of the group Robert Diggs (better known by his stage name RZA) came out in opposition against a dog-walking company attempting to file a copyright for the name "Woof-Tang Clan".
Guest post by Timothy Geigner of Techdirt
The last time we mentioned the Wu-Tang Clan here at Techdirt, we were discussing the group's bizarre yet inventive attempt to curtail digital music's infinite goods problem by releasing a single copy of an entire album for $1 million. It was a creative approach, though one that likely isn't a model that transfers well to the music industry as a whole. But it seems that the copyright arena isn't the only intellectual property venue in which Wu-Tang wants to play, as RZA, a member of the group, has filed a trademark opposition to a dog-walking company calling itself Woof-Tang Clan.
In a lawsuit filed November 15th, RZA (real name Robert Diggs) touted the long history of the Wu-Tang Clan mark and how its appearance on various goods and services "has come to represent enormous goodwill." The suit also claimed the Wu-Tang mark is "unmistakably associated with [RZA] such that it constitutes part of his identity."
Woof-Tang Clan's owner, Marty Cuatchon, filed a trademark application for his company on June 8th. As the New York Daily News noted, the company also briefly sold T-shirts on its website that made explicit reference to late Wu-Tang rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard's debut album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. The shirt tweaked the album's famous cover – a snapshot of ODB's ID card for food stamps – to feature a dog named Bali in the rapper's place. Another shirt parodied the cover of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising. Both have been removed from the company's website.
Now, the t-shirt aspect of this will muddy the waters as to just how valid an opposition this is. It's almost certain that RZA has a trademark for all things "Wu-Tang Clan" for apparel, after all. Still, the shirts are obvious parody, in line with Woof-Tang Clan's obvious homage as a parody in its business' name to begin with. Commercial in nature or not, this sort of parody is generally regarded as protected fair use.
Particularly, it should go without saying, when that use in no way deceives the consuming public about the source or affiliations of the supposedly offending company. That confusion is the controlling factor for trademark concerns and any claim that the public is going to think this small dog-walking company is run by or is affiliated with a world-renowned rap group is a hell of a logic-hurdle over which to leap. Rolling Stone's reporting suggests that RZA's filing claims that Woof-Tang Clan is suggesting a connection to the group, but all it actually suggests is that the folks behind Woof-Tang Clan are likely fans of the RZA and his cohorts. Marty Cuatchon, the man behind the company, confirmed as much.
Speaking with the Daily News Saturday, Cuatchon said he was unaware of RZA's trademark challenge and declined to comment until speaking with a lawyer. However, he did say, "I am a fan. We walk dogs. I thought it was a good idea."
A much better idea than this needless trademark opposition, I would say.