Monday, July 7, 2008
Help Me Howard: Jimmy Buffett
"Margaritaville," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," you know those are Jimmy Buffett songs, but did you know Jimmy Buffett will sue you if you use the names of some of his songs, even songs that he got from old Keys sayings like "Coconut Telegraph"? That has one woman singing the blues tonight and called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Jimmy Buffett made a name for himself and made a few million for his wallet by singing about life in the Florida Keys.
Denise Malefyt: "He's holed up down on Ramrod Key."
Denise Malefyt was a fan of Buffett's and wanted to live like he did in the Keys.
Denise Malefyt: "Moved down with a man, he left, I stayed."
But after her man left, her dream came true when Denise opened her own newspaper in Key Largo.
Denise Malefyt: "Well, I started it in October. Well, actually the first issue was in November of 2006."
And, to honor the people in the Keys, Denise named it Coconut Telegraph, a phrase locals have used for generations.
Denise Malefyt: "It's been in the Keys for years, longer than you and I have been alive."
And a phrase known around the world after Buffett used it as the title to an album in 1981.
Buffett singing the words to entertain the country, and Denise printing the words to inform and help the people in the Keys.
Ave Campbell: "My wife died, and she died when I was in the hospital. Denise decided I needed to do something to pay these doctor bills, so that's when Denise started writing in the newspaper. We had a big benefit, got a bunch of bands to come in and play. They all played for free. It really helped me. It got me out of a really bad spot by her helping me."
But now Denise's paper has caught the eye of Jimmy Buffett or, to be more specific, his band of corporate lawyers.
Denise Malefyt: "It was a little scary. Then I thought, 'Well, you know, maybe this is just a bunch of hot hair and blowing smoke."
Denise got a letter from the Atlanta law firm of Greenberg Traurig threatening to sue her if she didn't stop calling her paper the Coconut Telegraph, that Jimmy Buffett coined that phrase and has the exclusive right to use it.
Denise Malefyt: "What he did is heard about the Coconut Telegraph, wrote it in a song, made a great song, but he doesn't own the phrase."
And when people in the Conch Republic found the old boy from Margaritaville was going after the lady with the little paper, well, they aren't singing Jimmy's praises.
Denise Malefyt: "They're angry because this is part of the Conch Republic, and it belongs to us, and he basically made all his money down here. He's a billionaire and he does nothing for us."
And can he take away their name? Can Jimmy Buffett claim exclusive rights to an old saying and block everyone from using it? Let's turn to the lawyer who helps the little people for free.
Howard Finkelstein: "Yes, you can trademark a popular phrase for a particular type of business, and in 1986 Jimmy Buffett's corporation, Margaritaville Enterprises, trademarked the phrase 'Coconut Telegraph' to be used as a newsletter about events in South Florida, so that blocks any other publication from using the name without Buffett's permission."
When Help me Howard contacted Buffett's law firm, they told us they admit they made a mistake by saying Jimmy Buffett made up the phrase "Coconut Telegraph," but they say whether he made it up or not, he trademarked it in 1986, and it's his phrase to use exclusively.
Buffet's lawyers aren't just picking on the Coconut Telegraph. Earlier this year they blocked a Delta Airlines commercial that used the word Margaritaville. Buffett went after the Six Flags corporation for using the term "Carrot Heads," and, in 2004, Buffett's guys forced the owners of this Maryland sandwich shop to quit calling itself "Cheeseburger in Paradise."
Denise Malefyt: "What's he going to do? Sue everybody?"
We don't know the answer to that, but we do know Denise's friends are ready to fight to keep the name of her paper in paradise by protesting next Saturday in Key West right in front of Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant.
Denise Malefyt: "We just want to have a good time and say something to Jimmy Buffett: this is the Conch Republic, come on down."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, with an army of lawyers, Jimmy Buffett doesn't need any more support, but, in his defense, he has to go after people who use words he has trademarked under federal law. Once you become aware of someone using you're trademark, if you don't sue, you could lose the right to the words. People in the Keys say fine but work something out with Denise since the Keys has done so much for Buffett. We'll see.
Troubles buffeting? You need someone to sing your praises? Contact us. We're no son of a son of a sailor, but, come Monday, we can find a solution. Can I get sued for saying that?
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