Oscar’s worth more than gold to Academy

Org protects statuette's trademark, copyright

He stands 13-1/2 inches high, weighs 8-1/2 pounds and is plated with 24-karat gold. Oscar also is a priceless possession — not just to those who take him home, but also to the nonprofit group that hands him out.

“That Oscar statuette and the word Oscar and the (phrases) Academy Award and Academy Awards — what those things represent are arguably our most valuable assets,” says Ric Robertson, executive administrator of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “So there’s a very compelling reason to keep them not only as property of the Academy but to keep them unsullied by other kinds of misuses that could erode or degrade what they mean in the public’s mind.”

Protecting Oscar’s valuable image is not an easy job, however. The law stipulates that the owners of trademarks and copyrights must vigorously defend their rights or risk losing their claims. Therefore, the Acad must diligently seek out and enforce its copyright, regardless of the size of the infraction.

Among the most frequent infractions are event planners offering Oscar-themed parties complete with statuette-shaped stage props, companies making everything from chocolates to key chains in the shape of Oscar and Internet domain names such as http://www.oscarawards2000.com.

“In 90% of these cases, the people who purchase the items or rent the service are ignorant of the law or that we own these marks,” Robertson says.

The Academy does its best to keep track of infractions, using an inhouse attorney and a watch service to monitor Internet domain registrations. When an infraction is found, the Acad will write to the infractor and ask them to stop.

“Sometimes they may say ‘Oops, I’m sorry. I didn’t know,’ and the next day it’s down. The opposite is they say, affectionately, ‘Bug off,’ and that might take a different course,” Robertson says.

Most cases are resolved quickly and amicably, but not all of them. Among the most significant cases was that of Creative House Promotions Inc., a Chicago company that was making lookalike Oscar trophies. The Academy sued in 1988 and won on appeal, with Creative House paying $300,000 in damages.

Preventing infringement is also part of the Academy’s efforts. A pamphlet outlining how the Oscar symbol can be used is sent to publishers, broadcasters and advertisers who wish to use the symbols. The regulations govern everything from how Oscar-nominated and -winning films can phrase their advertisements to limits on broadcasters’ use of clips in covering the awards ceremony and how winners can use their statuettes.

The Academy wants nominees and recipients to be able to take advantage of the honor, but wants to ensure the public isn’t mislead about the nature of the award.

“It’s about everything in its appropriate context,” Robertson says. “We’re always free to answer questions to give them feedback where we think they might have overlooked the rules.”

Further adding to the complexity of the issue is the international interest in the Oscars.

“It is a very expensive and labor-intensive process to make sure we’ve got the proper trademark and copyright protections in all the various territories,” Robertson says.

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