Nu Image, First Look triumph in suit by dog breeder

Nu Image and First Look Studios have won a legal dogfight over using the name Rin Tin Tin in the kidpic “Finding Rin Tin Tin: the Adventure Continues.”

U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore ruled in favor of the indie studio in a suit filed by Daphne Hereford and the Rin Tin Tin Inc. German Shepherd breeding company alleging trademark infringement and claiming ownership of the name and trademark. The suit, filed last year in Houston, sought all profits and destruction of all DVDs.

The judge, in a ruling issued last week, found that use of the name Rin Tin Tin was a “fair use” and protected under the First Amendment from the breeding company’s claims of confusion and dilution.

“Defendants used the name ‘Rin Tin Tin’ in the title of their motion picture to describe the subject of ‘Finding Rin Tin Tin: The Adventure Continues,” which is based on the life of the WWI-era German Shepherd Dog,” Gilmore wrote. “This descriptive use of the name is fair because it tells the consumer what the film is about — the story of the historical dog Rin Tin Tin — and because it is actually about the historical dog Rin Tin Tin.”

The original Rin Tin Tin was a Shepherd puppy found on a French battlefield by U.S. soldier Lee Duncan during WWI. The dog, who learned tricks and could leap great heights, became a major star during the 1920s as he appeared in more than two dozen films that helped save Warner Bros.

Duncan also began a breeding program and provided successor Rin Tin Tins who starred in films, radio shows and TV series. The bloodline continued in Texas with Hereford’s grandmother, who had purchased several direct descendants from Duncan. Hereford took over the breeding program at El Rancho Rin Tin Tin in Houston when her grandmother died.

Scott Marrs, lead counsel for the studios, said in a statement, “This decision upholds the right of artists, including movie producers, to freely and fairly express themselves without fear of litigation.”

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