Judge Dismisses ‘Wild America’ Trademark Claim

Screenshot from the “Marty Stouffer’s Wild America” website.

DENVER (CN) — Even when they’re both hugging a grizzly bear for the camera, nature documentary personalities Marty Stouffer and Casey Anderson don’t look anything alike, said a federal judge in dismissing the former’s trademark lawsuit against National Geographic.

A pioneer of the nature documentary genre, Stouffer sued National Geographic in 2018 claiming several of its programs including “Untamed Americas” staring Casey Anderson ripped off his iconic series “Wild America.”

National Geographic countered that Stouffer was attempting to enforce trademark claims over general fixtures of the genre in violation of its own First Amendment rights.

“The fact that National Geographic is using its titles to describe the content of the accused series weighs heavily in National Geographic’s favor,” wrote U.S. District of Colorado Judge William Martinez, a Barack Obama appointee, in the 22-page opinion.

“Each of the accused series substantially focuses on America’s wildlands. While the English language is notably quite expansive, the range of words to describe such programming is limited,” Martinez wrote. “Yet Stouffer would not allow even a synonym for ‘wild’ (i.e., ‘Untamed Americas’).”

Judge Martinez initially applied the Second Circuit’s “Rogers test,” which asks whether the title has artistic relevance to the underlying work and whether it explicitly misleads the consumer. Seeing that the test disproportionately favored junior rights holders like National Geographic, Martinez asked six additional questions and allowed Stouffer to submit an amended complaint last year.

Ultimately, Martinez reached the same conclusion, although he cautioned that doesn’t make the phrase “Wild America” a free for all, if there was “evidence of a non-artistic intent with respect to the use of the trademark.”

Originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Marty and his brother Mark grew up playing around with their family’s 8mm movie camera and started traveling the country in 1970, making it their mission to “record every animal on the U.S. Department of Interior’s Endangered Species list.”

Over the decades, the Stouffer brothers’ films became recognized for their “slow motion, close-ups, and time lapses to give viewers a more immersive experience than other nature and wildlife documentary programming,” according to his original complaint.

The Stouffer brothers were also behind the 1997 feature film, “Wild America” which depicts their childhood love of nature and starred Devon Sawa as Mark, Scott Bairstow as Marty, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas as their younger brother Marshall.

The Walt Disney Company gained a controlling stake in National Geographic when it acquired Twenty-First Century Fox in March 2019.

National Geographic did not respond immediately to press inquiries. Neither Stouffer nor his attorney Jeffrey Southerland of North Carolina-based firm Tuggle Duggins, responded immediately to press inquiries.

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