Texas Woman Goes to Court to Stop Lassie's Trainers From Breeding Rin Tin Tin Dogs

Who owns a silent star's great-great-great-great-great grandchildren is woof, woof, complicated.
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According to a 2011 article in The New Yorker, the dog star Rin Tin Tin was once so popular that every time Warner Bros. "was in financial straits it released a Rin Tin Tin movie and the income from it set things right again."

A century later, Rin Tin Tin is no longer starring in feature films — 2007's Finding Rin Tin Tin was the last — but rather courtrooms. A slew of them in fact. The latest is a lawsuit from canine breeder Daphne Hereford, who once tried unsuccessfully to block the 2007 film as a trademark infringement and has now turned her sights to those breeding Rin Tin Tin descendants, looking to use intellectual property teeth to stop the breeders.

Rin Tin Tin was the name of a puppy born in 1918 in France. He was rescued on the World War I battlefield by an American soldier named Lee Duncan, who after touring the ruins of the enemy, began a German Shepherd dog breeding program. Soon after Rin Tin Tin came Rin Tin II, Rin Tin Tin III, Rin Tin Tin IV. The original starred in 23 silent films, while a couple of the dog's children appeared briefly in the 1950s television show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. True proof that Hollywood breeds sequels like dogs.

According to the newest lawsuit, Duncan provided a puppy from Rin Tin Tin IV to Hereford's grandmother in 1957 and "endorsed her breeding program of German Shepherd Dogs to carry on the bloodline of Rin Tin Tin for future generations."

And so, Hereford claims owning and showing Rin Tin Tin V, VI, VII, VIII, IX and X, acquiring trademark rights from TV producer Herbert Leonard in 1998, and creating and maintaining a Rin Tin Tin museum, among other endeavors.

All is not well on the Rin Tin Tin front.

Besides fending off a recent $5 million lawsuit from Max Kleven, who claims to have made his own deals to acquire Rin Tin Tin copyrights and trademarks from Leonard, Hereford says her health has significantly declined and so she began allowing others to breed and train the dogs under her direction and control. Apparently, this was quite an opportunity, as each Rin Tin Tin Line Dog is estimated to be worth more than $50,000.

Hereford says that Kathy Carlton and T.C. Carlton became involved in the breeding program around 2008. She says that Carol Riggins and her daughter Chelsea Riggins expressed interest too in 2013.

"Hereford had been familiar with the Riggins for several years through their association with the training program for Lassie," states the newest complaint. "In January 2014, at Daphne Hereford's expense, Carol Riggins flew from California to Houston, Texas to pick up a Rin Tin Tin Line Dog for breeding in accordance with criteria of the breeding and training program and policies of Rin Tin Incorporated."

Allegedly, American Kennel Club registration certificates representing the Carltons as "co-owners" were made as part of a "good faith effort to mentor," though the certificates are said to have not been "intended to transfer any ownership of the dogs nor affect the ownership rights reflected in existing contracts and by the policies of Rin Tin Incorporated."

The Carltons and Riggins became officers of the company, a financial dispute arose, a legal war over Rin Tin Incorporate commenced, and now, Hereford is suing her breeders for taking possession of Rin Tin Tin descendant dogs including "Denali," "Caramello," "Snoopy," "Godiva" and "Babe Ruth," using them in commercial promotion and advertising, and allegedly breaching contracts, fiduciary duty and trademarks as well as committing unfair competition and conversion.

For this, Hereford prays for monetary relief as well as a "permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from breeding and/or using Rin Tin Tin Line Dogs in commercial promotion or advertising."

As Hereford attempts to collar the breeding, Kleven offers up his own version of a Rin Tin Tin family tree of rights and is suing his former business partners and lawyers for fraud, elder financial abuse, legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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