Pandemic Binge Hit 'Tiger King' Sparks Trademark Lawsuit Calling for "Destruction" of the Series

Hollywood Weekly Magazine claims it coined the phrase "Tiger King" and its advertisers are upset over a perceived connection to the "tawdry television program."
Courtesy of Netflix

Amid pandemic-prompted stay-at-home orders across the globe, Netflix's Tiger King became an unexpected phenomenon — but not everyone is pleased with the attention the hit series has drawn.

Hollywood Weekly Magazine is suing Netflix, CBS Studios, Paramount and Imagine Television for a host of claims including trademark and copyright infringement, unfair business practices and unjust enrichment. The publication says it owns the "Tiger King" trademark and its unwanted association with the series is injuring its reputation. It's seeking not only damages and disgorgement of profits but also the destruction of the series and all related advertising.

HWM, according to its complaint, is distributed in 300 locations across the U.S. and another 210 in other countries. The magazine claims it coined the phrase "Tiger King" in reference to Joe Exotic in 2013 and the nickname was exclusively used in connection with its profiles of the now-jailed Oklahoma zoo operator until the Netflix series debuted this year. (Though HWM didn't file a trademark application for "The Tiger King" until July 2.)

The magazine says it adheres to a strict "no gossip" policy and has spent 20 years building a "wholesome" brand. "Recently after the Series was distributed for streaming, Plaintiffs for the first time were receiving comments from advertisers as to when HWM became a tabloid gossip magazine when the fundamental pillar of HWM is and always has been 'No Gossip, Strictly Entertainment' and always highly respected and well-known for this brand," writes attorney Michael F. Frank in the complaint, which is posted below. Beyond the references to the Tiger King, the magazine is unhappy that its publication was physically displayed in the series.

"The Series literally uses the [Tiger King mark] in its title, throughout the video, and then even shows issues of the HWM Publication itself within the video Series as well showing that they knew about it, accessed it, had access to it, and were even using it in the Series itself, thus establishing the [mark] was neither separately created nor developed by Defendants," writes Frank.

HWM claims its advertisers have wanted to stop doing business with it because of the "very easily plausible and obvious connection" with "a tawdry television program." 

That "tawdry" program is one of Netflix's most viewed of all time and has already sparked multiple spinoff projects, including a Nic Cage-led scripted series for CBS, a Carole Baskin-centered show starring Kate McKinnon at Universal and an Animal Planet documentary called Surviving Joe Exotic.

Netflix has not yet commented on the suit and CBS Studios and Imagine have declined to comment.