All of us at some point have watched and loved the film “Dirty Dancing”. The film is legendary for different reasons- the impeccable dance routines, the star-crossed lovers theme, Patrick Swayze and the dialogues, which are quoted, spoofed and now being used for ad campaigns. TD Ameritrade (‘Ameritrade’ for brevity) through its ad company Havas ran an advertisement of a man lifting a piggy bank over the tagline “Nobody puts your old 401(k) in the corner”, clearly spoofing the most memorable dialogue from the Dirty Dancing.
The ad campaign ran from October 2014 to April 2015, and once the campaign ended Lionsgate, the studio which holds the rights to the movie, was ready to have a legal dance off with Ameritrade. Lionsgate demanded a hefty license fee for the unauthorised use of its trademark. Taking this as a likely threat, Ameritrade and Havas filled a pre-emptive suit against Lionsgate in U.S. District Court of NY stating that neither did the ad campaign use the line “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” nor did they use any clips, music themes, stills or any other material from the film, which means there was no question of infringement. Adding to this, it was discovered that Lionsgate did not have a federal trademark for the said line, but had applied for three in September last year, a month before the commencement of the ad campaign. The respective applications according to the complainant were filed for usage on various goods related to the film like clothing, paper based merchandise, household items etc. but stated “no intent to use the mark on or in connection with financial services or services of any kind.”
This was the situation till late June, 2015. However, on July 2nd, 2015 Lionsgate reciprocated with an infringement suit against Ameritrade in Los Angeles. In the suit which was filed as recent at 2nd July, Liongate claimed that the line in question is historic and is a valuable asset to the studio as well as its affiliates. The line uttered by Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in the concluding half of the film, leads into the final dance where the protagonists perform on the song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and Baby (Jennifer Grey) successfully does a dance lift for the first time. According to Lionsgate, the tagline and the lift both have been intentionally copied by Ameritrade, to capitulate on the popularity of the film. They also added that such usage is likely to cause confusion amongst the people, making it appear that Lionsgate was somehow associated to the ad campaign or had given its approval.
In the suit filed by Ameritrade in New York, it had refuted Lionsgate’s contention saying that the ad campaign made parodic use of the line and that the ad campaign ended as of April, 2015 with no intention of a reboot. Thus there could be no confusion as contemplated by Lionsgate.
Lionsgate, besides filing a suit against Ameritrade has also asked for a sizeable sum in damages for the intentional violation.
Let us wait and see who gets to do the victory dance!