NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - A guy sues a major motion picture studio for $10 million because he has the same name as a cartoon fish. He's worried people will get confused.
Excuse me?! Confuse a human and seafood? Sounds like a long shot bid for some easy money, eh?
But just like Bruce the Shark in the movie at issue, "Finding Nemo," things may not be what they seem.
The hit kids-movie has a character in it named "Mr. Ray" ... which makes sense considering he's a manta ray. "Mr Ray" is a cute character that teaches a "school" of fish (get it?) and sings songs as he takes his students on field trips.
|The human Mr. Ray.
Wouldn't seem to be a problem, would it?
But it's a problem for a New Jersey-area kids entertainer, who also goes by the moniker "Mr. Ray." He was born Ray Yodlowsky. After working as a journeyman musician with various artists under the name Ray Anderson, he now specializes in children's songs and parties and has a DVD coming out on the market. (His Web site is here.) Plainly put, he's a Raffi-wannabe who's starting to see some success.
The human Mr. Ray is suing "Finding Nemo" backers Disney and Pixar for $10 million. He also wants Disney to promise to do something very un-Disney like ... not to flood the market with "Mr. Ray" (the manta one) goodies, like CD singalongs and music.
Such a media blitz by a "Mr. Ray," manta or not, would hurt the musical prospects of the human, according to his attorney.
"We don't want to stop the movie. The problem is the merchandising. That stuff will kill us," said Wallace Collins, attorney for the human Mr. Ray. And because his client has a trademark registered on the name, Collins says his case "isn't as much of a stretch as the Spike TV thing."
You remember that one, right? Film director Spike Lee took umbrage at plans by Viacom (VIAB: Research, Estimates) to rebrand its TNN network as "Spike TV."
After a lot of back and forth in the media about the world "spike," including a resurrection of the old bandleader Spike Jones, the two sides settled late last week. They won't tell you what they settled for. But you know some sort of money thing happened. And Lee has various projects going forward with MTV and Showtime, which are Viacom properties. So some arm-twisting probably happened too.
By virtue of the trademark claim, "Mr. Ray" seems to have a little more legal foundation than Spike. So Disney could have a problem. The Mouse's PR office couldn't immediately get back to me with their take on things.
Of course, the tussles over Napster and The Hulk have made everyone hyper-aware, even paranoid, about intellectual property rights. Why not names as well?
|Disney's marketing strength could flood consumers with its own vision of Mr. Ray.
"There does seem to be a greater awareness that a name can be intellectual property and so it is reasonable from a business standpoint to protect those rights," said Janet Fries, a trademark attorney with Drinker Biddle and Reath in Washington, D.C.
The irony here is that instead of a big corporate titan trying to prevent simple folks from usurping its songs and characters, it is a simple singer trying to stop a corporate titan from overwhelming his stab at fame and fortune by taking his name -- schlocky as it may be.
Face it. If Disney wanted to, it could cram every McDonald's Happy Meal with a singing manta and kids everywhere would suddenly know who the "real" Mr. Ray was. The human Mr. Ray would, well, probably have to change his name, whether he was first or not. (His attorney already claims to have examples of confusion among people who tried to book "Mr. Ray" for parties.)
But corporate titans can lose. Victoria's Secret, for example, recently lost a Supreme Court case against a small sex shop in Kentucky ... Victor's Little Secret.
If Disney (DIS: Research, Estimates) wrote the guy a $10 million check, I'm sure he'd feel fulfilled, career-wise. He might even get that feel-good feeling for much less. And maybe that will be the happy ending.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.