Loco Lawsuits: I’m the ass, not you

Copyright lawsuits can be difficult and take time. Just ask George Harrison. The lawsuit against him for “subconsciously” plagiarizing the song “He’s So Fine” in writing “My Sweet Lord” dragged on from 1971 to 1998. Some copyright lawsuits don’t take quite so long – and can produce even sadder results.

In 1997, Bob Craft, who lived in rural Montana, legally changed his name to “Jack Ass.” He said he did so because of a campaign against drunk driving he began after his brother was killed in a car accident. He also created a cartoon character called Andi Ass to help promote responsible drinking and designated drivers with the slogan, “Be a smart ass, not a dumb ass.” According to Ass, “The ‘SMART ASS’ chooses a designated driver, rather than being a ‘DUMB Ass’ and drink while driving.”

In October 2000, the MTV series Jackass premiered. Shortly after the release of Jackass: The Movie in late October 2002, Ass filed a pro se complaint against sued Viacom, MTV’s parent company, in state court. Ass claimed Viacom defamed both him and Andi Ass. He also alleged it was guilty of plagiarism and trademark and copyright infringement of his legal name, as well as that of Andi Ass. Given the movie grossed more than $42 million in its first ten days, Ass sought damages of $10 million.

Ass said he represented himself because “I couldn’t find an attorney” to represent him. That’s likely why Ass was unaware that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright, trademark, and patent cases. As a result, Viacom moved the lawsuit to the federal district court in Montana in January 2003.

Almost immediately after removing the lawsuit from state court, Viacom filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. After the parties briefed their legal positions, the federal judge dismissed the case in early July 2003. It evidently was too great a loss for Ass. He committed suicide on July 21.

Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn’t any. But this wrongs the jackass.

Mark Twain, Notebook

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