Winchester Mystery House, LLC v. Global Asylum, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Trade Secrets
  • Date Filed: 10-24-2012
  • Case #: H036253
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Mihara
  • Full Text Opinion

A trademark claim could be made when an allegedly infringing movie title bares no relation to the film or there was an intent to mislead.

Opinion (Mihara): Winchester Mystery House, LLC (“Winchester”) owns and operates the “Winchester Mystery House,” located in San Jose, California. Winchester had contracted with a third-party film company to produce a film based on the house. Global Asylum, Inc. (“Global”) subsequently requested permission from Winchester to shoot a “low-budget horror film” on the property, but was informed by Winchester that rights to the home’s story were already contracted out. Shortly after, Global released a film entitled “Haunting of Winchester House.” Winchester then filed suit, alleging, among other claims, trademark infringement with regard to the title of the film. Global filed for, and was granted summary judgment, which Winchester appealed. The Court of Appeals found that the Lantham Act’s protection of trademarks would only apply to film titles if the title had no relevance to the artistic work whatsoever or if the title had some relevance, but explicitly mislead as to the source of the work. The Court found that the title did have some relevance to the film, and therefore the first prong of Rogers was satisfied. Additionally, the Court applied the alternative avenues test, and found that Global’s movie title could have referred to the history of the Winchester family, which was not copyrighted. As for the second prong, the court found that nothing about Global’s film indicated it was authorized or endorsed by Winchester, and therefore did not intend to mislead. Thus, the Court AFFIRMED summary judgment.

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