Netflix Knocks Out Trademark Suit Over 'Tiger King'

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness - Netflix Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix's pandemic binge hit Tiger King may not have given Joe Exotic his royal moniker, but it also didn't infringe on the rights of the magazine that takes credit for the nickname, a California federal judge has ruled.

Hollywood Weekly Magazine in July sued Netflix, CBS Studios, Paramount and Imagine Television claiming it owns the "Tiger King" trademark. It also was displeased that HWM issues were shown in the series and said and its unwanted association with the hit series is injuring its reputation as a "wholesome" brand.

In response, Netflix turned over to the court a flash drive containing every excerpt of the series where "Tiger King" and Hollywood Weekly Magazine appear — including scenes that show Joe Maldonado-Passage sold products branded with the nickname and that he starred in a reality series called Joe Exotic Tiger King. U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi agreed to take judicial notice of  the footage, as well as excerpts from the magazine and records from the U.S. copyright and trademark offices, in considering the streamer's motion to dismiss.

Netflix argued that the First Amendment barred HWM's claims, that the magazine failed to adequately allege copyright infringement and that its use of the magazine in the series is fair use.

Scarsi found Netflix's use of the marks is artistically relevant and did not explicitly mislead consumers into thinking the magazine was affiliated with the docuseries and granted dismissal with prejudice as to those claims. He's also not convinced Hollywood Weekly can prove copyright infringement.

"Plaintiffs’ FAC lacks well-pled facts from which it is plausible to conclude that Plaintiffs own a valid copyright that Netflix infringed," writes Scarsi in the order, which is posted below. "Plaintiffs instead identify registration numbers and aver legal conclusions concerning Netflix’s infringement of the 'Publication,' unintelligibly defined as 'the subject work of art subject publication in this Complaint.' ... Despite the FAC’s length and prior opportunity to amend, Plaintiffs inexplicably fail to provide cogent details concerning what works their registrations cover, or allege which parts of the copyrights Netflix infringed, when, and through what conduct."

Hollywood Weekly will have a chance to amend its copyright infringement claim, but Scarsi notes it's "out of an abundance of caution, and given the Ninth Circuit’s policy of granting leave to amend with 'extreme liberality.'”

Read the full decision below.