Maria Bartiromo used to get emails from a guy who claimed to be Joey Ramone. He said he was a big investor, and an even bigger fan of hers. She didn’t believe him. Plenty of derelicts outside CBGB’s imagined they were punk rock stars like Joey Ramone. So he wrote this song for her before he died, and she finally believed.
When NPR’s Planet Money team learned that Maria’s trademark on “Money Honey” had lapsed, they decided to move in on the brand. They said they wanted to make “Money Honey” visors and ball caps, but really, those guys will do anything to tell a good story. After shelling out $350 to register it, IP lawyers told them a trademark wasn’t enough. There’s a notion in common law called “right of publicity” that allows Maria to continue to be the Money Honey despite walking away from the trademark.
Planet Money has the most interesting primer on intellectual property law that you’ll ever hear, and a prime example is Vanna White, good ol’ Ms. Wheel of Fortune. When Samsung made a commercial with a robot wearing a blond wig and spilling out of a strapless evening gown, Vanna was not amused. She sued the robot. And courts upheld her right of publicity. Judge Alex Kozinski dissented:
[the decision subjected advertisers to] claims often made by people with a wholly exaggerated sense of their own fame and significance. Future Vanna Whites might not get the chance to create their personae, because their employers may fear some celebrity will claim the persona is too similar to her own.