The Legal Battle Over Who Gets to Say "YUUUP!" on TV

Dave Hester - Reality Rocks Expo - Day 1 - P - 2011
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Dave Hester, star of A&E's Storage Wars, is fighting a rapper over use of the signature catchphrase, "YUUUP!"

Noooope[1], this ain't a joke.

Hester has filed a lawsuit against Trey Songz (born Tremaine Neverson) and is seeking a court order that bars the rapper from "interfering" with his use of “YUUUP!” 

Attorneys for Songz sent a cease-and-desist letter to Hester that demanded the reality TV star stop uttering the phrase during the show’s auctions of seized goods, according to the NY Post. The rapper says that “YUUUP!” has been his "signature sound” since at least 2009, but evidently, he failed to trademark it. 

According to a search of trademark records, Hester registered “YUUUP!” on three occasions, dating back to this past May.

Besides, Hester says that the two uses of "YUUUP!" sound different. Songz’s version, according to the complaint, “resembles an animal-like or nonhuman squeal which begins with a distinct ‘yeeee’ sound before finishing with a squeal-like ‘uuuup’ sound.”

Songz doesn't appear to have a trademark but theoretically could have gotten one on the sound of the word itself. As one court interpreting the USPTO's standards put it, "A sound mark depends upon aural perception of the listener, which may be as fleeting as the sound itself unless, of course, the sound is so inherently different or distinctive that it attaches to the subliminal mind of the listener to be awakened when heard and to be associated with the source or event with which it is struck.” 

It's a high threshold. Harley-Davidson learned this the hard way about a decade back when it unsuccessfully attempted to register a sound mark on the syncopated chug of its idling V-twin motorcycle engine.

Of the tens of thousands of trademarks registered, just a fraction of those cover sounds. Examples include the roar of the MGM lion and NBC's three-note musical chime.

Getting a sound mark on a catchphrase is even more rare, but there have been bells of victory[2] for a few companies that have pulled it off.

The silver medal for best sound mark goes to 20th Century Fox, which registered in 2008 a mark consisting of the famous Homer Simpson spoken-word utterance, "D'oh!"

But the gold has to go to Comcast's Versus network, which in 2009 got a sound mark on the word "Holy" being uttered, followed by a bleep, with a cymbal and a descending electric guitar slide in the background. As in, "Look at our ratings! Holy (Bleep) ((Vvvvvvv))!"

If Songz happens to read this post and realizes that he should have gone to the U.S. Trademark Office to get a sound mark on "YUUUP!" he'd best be careful about exclaiming "D'oh!" or saying "Holy" followed by be some bleeps and other strange sounds. Ba dum ching[3]


Twitter: @eriqgardner

[1]. Not registered

[2]. Not registered

[3]. Not registered, but IBM has put in a patent claim over certain uses of the laugh track.