copyright question Dear Doc:

Seems to me that us vegetarians don’t get no respect in court. I heard that “Lettuce Turnip the Beet” got ripped off by that infamous pirate and parachute flapping no-good Gymboree Corporation, and the judge wouldn’t lift a finger to help.  What gives?

Rootin’ for the Little Guy

Dear Little Root:

Since 2011, Elektra Printz Gorski (wow, say THAT three times fast!) has sold T-shirts bearing the phrase, “lettuce turnip the beet” to people who, it seems, like to confuse small children with homophones (and don’t get me started on equal rights, or there’s gonna be a rumble…) She sold these clothes in the the SoHo neighborhood of New York, and on line at (By the way, SoHo is a contraction of the terms “So…Hope You Can Afford to Shop Here”, but the Doc digresses.) Gorski registered a copyright in her phrase, as well as two trademarks for it.  Gorski said that, “Gorski’s light grey heather shirt for children is widely considered one of the most popular children’s products ever pinned on Pinterest under their ‘Popular’ heading and has over 120,000 product views on Etsy making it one of the most popular products ever on Etsy.” Wow!

Then, quicker than you can sing “Gymbo the Clown Goes Up and Down” 731 times, the Gymboree Corporation starts selling shirts that say, you guessed it, “Lettuce Turnip the Beet”. Of course, Gorski sued. Gymbo moved to dismiss claiming that you can’t protect an “arrangement of a short phrase”.

Judge Lucy Koh, the same judge who has ruled on the giant law suits between Apple and Samsung that have involved over $1 BILLION DOLLARS in damages, ruled, at least in part, for Gymboree. Seems that copyright can’t protect just a few words – although how many is enough is not spelled out in her ruling.

On the bright side for Gorski, she also has two registered trademarks, and Judge Koh did not dismiss her trademark claims against Gymboree, finding that any defenses it may have are premature at this stage of the case.

The Doc certainly can sympathize with all the vegetarians out there. In fact, one of the Doc’s favorite revolutionary anthems supports vege-civil disobedience. If you, too, have a short phrase that you wrote on a slip of paper and mailed to yourself, thinking that you now have a copyright, be sure to speak to one of the attorneys at LW&H. They will gently tell you that you’ve wasted a stamp, and help you to get actual legal protection for your products.

Let’s “ketchup” next month.  Until then, I remain your libertarian, nonsectarian, vegetarian (well, except for the occasional 42 oz. porterhouse) friend.

The Doc.

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.