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Hot Topic NBR Focus: GMO
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Hollywood Chamber of Commerce threatens legal action over 'Wellywood'

Trademark holder says it should have been consulted; seeks legal advice. UPDATE: Councillor mulls High Court action.

NBR staff
Tue, 24 May 2011

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which holds the trademark rights to the original iconic "Hollywood" sign in Los Angeles, said in a statement this afternoon that it was upset to learn Wellington Airport had ressurected plans to proceed with its "Wellywood" sign.

The chamber said it had assumed the initiative had been dropped, but learned through media enquiries that it was back on. It had expected a direct approach from Wellington Airport.

Chamber president and chief executive Leron Gubler said “ As a matter of courtesy, we would have expected at a minimum a response from the airport authority as they had promised ... We will now again refer this to our legal counsel for advice."

Mr Gubler said his organisation was not without a sense of humour, but that if Wellington Airport did not seek the chamber's cooperation, "the lawyers can sort it out."

Lawyer Rick Shera expects the chamber to take advantage of untested provisions in our Trade Marks Act:

"We introduced changes to our Trademarks Act quite a few years ago to protect marks that are "well known" in NZ. One argument will be whether Wellywood", as the Act says, "takes unfair advantage of, or is detrimental to, the distinctive character or the repute of "Hollywood"," the Lowndes Jordan partner told NBR.

Councillor mulls High Court action
Meanwhile, Wellington City Councillor and former chair of the Wellington Airport Authority Helene Ritchie, is calling for a judicial review in the High Court of the decision to approve the Wellywood sign without consulting the public.

If nothing happens, the concillor will consider taking her own High Court action.

Ms Richie said the sign was tacky, and an insult to the city.

"The Airport Company should give in and stick to its core business," the councillor said.

"Failing that it will face a very angry public, and the expensive possibility of American litigation by Hollywood Chamber of Commerce lawyers."

The Wellington City Council holds a minority stake in the airport. The majority of shares are owned by Infratil.


RAW DATA: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce statement, May 24

In March 2010, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, holder of the trademark to the world-famous Hollywood Sign, began receiving press inquiries about a proposed creation of a sign at the Wellington, New Zealand, airport that would mimic the Hollywood Sign.

In response to the proposal, the Chamber’s attorney sent a letter dated March 12, 2010 to Steven Fitzgerald, CEO of the Wellington Airport (WIAL). The Chamber affirmed its rights to the Hollywood Sign trademark and urged the Airport Authority to seek permission from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, if it was determined to proceed with the proposed sign.

On March 17, 2010, the Chamber received a letter from Mike Brown, Airport Planner in Wellington, acknowledging receipt of Chamber letter. Mr. Brown stated that WIAL would consider the issues raised and would respond shortly.

Since no further correspondence was received, and with reports of strong opposition from the Wellington community, the Chamber assumed that WIAL had dropped plans for the sign. On May 20, the Chamber learned through media inquiries that WIAL announced that it is going forward with a sign. In response to press inquiries, Chamber President & CEO Leron Gubler has issued the following statement: “The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is disappointed to learn that WIAL is moving forward with the construction of a Wellywood Sign. As a matter of courtesy, we would have expected at a minimum a response from the Airport authority as they had promised. We believed the project was abandoned. We will now again refer this to our legal counsel for advice."

“The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce saved the Hollywood Sign years ago, set up a Trust to protect and to maintain it, licenses use of its image to fund the Trust, and is responsible for its continued existence as an iconic symbol of the U.S., if not the global entertainment industry. We are not without a sense of humor, nor without legal rights. We hope that if the Wellington Airport wants to mimic our Sign in this fashion, it will proceed in cooperation with us and will recognize that the holder of the rights to the Sign and the party responsible for its continued existence is a nonprofit entity that works hard to raise funds so that the Sign even exists to be mimicked."

“We hope that this time our overture to WIAL to that end will be responded to in like spirit. Otherwise, the lawyers can sort it out, but that seems a shame, particularly in regard to a project that appears to be controversial in Wellington already."

NBR staff
Tue, 24 May 2011
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Hollywood Chamber of Commerce threatens legal action over 'Wellywood'