David vs. Goliath in Struggle for Titanic Copyright
Since the release of Titanic in late 1997, the trademark office has been flooded with applications seeking to claim the name. Forty-nine of the 57 applications received by the office came in after the movie was released, seeking to use the name for restaurants, clubs, beer, perfume, and---this is not a joke---iceberg lettuce. The oldest application was submitted by James Korn, an expert on antique military paraphernalia and a supplier of authentic costumes to Broadway producers and Hollywood movie studios. Korn, who owns Kaufmann's Army & Navy, a surplus store in New York's Times Square, has owned the trademark since 1993.
In addition to supplying uniforms to the entertainment industry---the astronaut's uniforms in Apollo 13 were based on designs Korn supplied---he also sells T-shirts, caps, pennants, and other goods emblazoned with the name and logo of the White Star Line, the company that owned and operated Titanic, the ship. As the legal owner of the Titanic trademark in the US, Korn has informed 20th Century Fox that he is owed royalties for any clothing the film studio sells bearing the name of the ship. Korn has asked the studio to sign a licensing agreement with him.
The studio has refused and is pursuing a competing trademark claim. Fox believes that the millions it spent developing and marketing Titanic, the movie, give it the right to use the name. Regarding Korn's request that the film company sign a payment deal, Fox executive Steven Feldstein said, "We don't believe we need to. . . . Everything we are filing for is relative to our movie."
The issue doesn't stop there. R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., a New York salvage company that has been removing artifacts from the sunken ship for the past 12 years, also claims the name. It began selling clothing commemorating the Titanic after its first successful expedition to the ship in 1987 and points to the "first use" principle, which is often the basis for deciding such disputes. George Tulloch, president of R.M.S. Titanic, says the whole issue is distasteful. "It is offensive for anyone to think they can own the name 'Titanic,'" he says. "It belongs to history." Tulloch also says that his company was forced to take an aggressive position because of Korn's "bizarre behavior."
Korn's attorney, Deborah A. Peacock, counters with the fact that other historical names have been appropriated for commercial ventures, such as Mayflower Van Lines or Viking sewing machines. "The case is fascinating," she says, because the trademark, like the ship, "was abandoned and is now being raised." If the Patent and Trademark Office finds in his favor, Korn could enjoy a substantial windfall profit. A decision is expected soon.