The Cousteau Society (“TCS”) filed a lawsuit in New York federal court against Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter, Celine Cousteau, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition under federal and New York state law.
In its complaint, TCS argues that it owns all of the intellectual property associated with Jacques Cousteau – trademarks; rights of privacy, publicity, and personality (including Jacques Cousteau’s signature red stocking cap); and copyrights in films, images and photographs – and that Celine Cousteau improperly used such intellectual property without TCS’ permission for her upcoming documentary film, “Celine Cousteau, the Adventure Continues.” TCS alleges that after it learned about the production of the documentary, it sent notice to Celine Cousteau of TCS’ intellectual property ownership and requested Celine Cousteau not use such intellectual property; Celine Cousteau replied to TCS and assured the organization that its intellectual property would not be utilized in her documentary. Later, TCS viewed a press kit for the documentary which included what TCS claims is a copyrighted image of Jacques Cousteau in his signature red stocking cap as a background image for one of the pages. Shortly thereafter, TCS brought suit alleging a “flagrant usurpation” of its intellectual property seeking a permanent injunction, any profits derived from the use of its trademarks, and statutory and punitive damages.
Takeaway: Importantly, the depiction of famous apparel, including stocking caps, could give rise to a claim for publicity, trademark, or copyright infringement. Advertisers who wish to pay homage to celebrities, who like Jacques Cousteau, have a signature item of apparel, should be aware of the TCS enforcement action.