Monday, March 16, 2015

Eric Dahl, B.B. King, Toyota...and Camry Effect II: Stolen Guitar!

If you follow me on Google Plus, you may have noticed my October 23, 2014 post:

You know that heartwarming commercial? According to a lawsuit, it's based on a copyrighted book.

The heartwarming commercial in question is this one, in which a young woman finds a guitar, gets in her Toyota Camry, and returns the guitar to its rightful owner - B.B. King.

Eric Dahl didn't find the commercial to be particularly heartwarming. In an extremely bizarre coincidence, Dahl himself (who, for the record, is not a young woman) happened to find a guitar, which he returned to its rightful owner - B.B. King. Dahl recorded the story in the book B.B. King's Lucille and the Loves Before Her, well before Toyota Motor Sales USA, advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi North America, and ad producer Smuggler created the commercial above.

As I noted in October, Dahl took Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Smuggler to court.

Courthouse News Service was the source for my October post, and it has published an update.

You see, Toyota argued that the entire case should be thrown out:

Fatal to his claim, Mr. Dahl conflates the concept of the expression of the story (protectable) with the basic idea of the story (not protectable). The concept of a musician who loses a musical instrument which is later found and returned is not unique to plaintiff nor can he claim copyright protection over all such stories. Nor does the fact that the musician in both stories is Mr. King change that result; as a matter of law, plaintiff must point to the expression of his own story in the ad, not some common facts, to make out a claim.

Perhaps a valid argument in some cases - if I happen to write a story about a ring, that doesn't automatically mean that the Tolkien estate will chase me down. However, Toyota's argument to dismiss the case entirely was rejected. U.S. District Judge James Mahan:

"Defendants misapply this rule of law to plaintiff's complaint. Although general themes and ideas are not copyrightable, parallels to more specific elements of a particular expression are protected," he wrote.

He found that Dahl "adequately alleges similarities between the plot, characters and sequence of events, among other factors, of the two works."

This does NOT mean that Dahl won; it merely means that the case can proceed. Dahl may win at trial, Toyota may win at trial, or perhaps the parties will settle.

This is yet more bad news for Toyota Camry marketing efforts. Remember the 2012 Super Bowl brouhaha, when any mention of the game on Twitter would result in a response tweet regarding "the Camry Effect"? This turned out to be another promotion involving several parties: Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi, American Pop, and other companies.

In both the 2012 case and this case, Toyota itself may not have been directly responsible for the bad thing (tweet-spamming, adapting Dahl's book), but in both cases Toyota stood up front and center rather than pointing fingers at Saatchi & Saatchi or some other partner.

But we don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
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