Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Truth Behind The Meatball/Glendale Bear "Copyright Dispute"

Sarah Aujero, the creator of "The Glendale Bear" persona, is a friend. I’ve spoken with her regarding most of these events as they unfolded, and she has extensive documentation backing up her story.

Sarah created the Meatball/Glen Bearian/Glendale Bear twitter account in April 2012. Her tweets recounting Meatball’s tales of life in Glendale were hilarious, and the account became wildly popular, rapidly garnering nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter. As the account became popular, Sarah copyrighted various derivations of the name to protect herself legally from imitators (several sprang up). The popularity of her account dramatically raised the profile of the hungry bear who kept returning to Glendale and turned it into a national news story. When the bear was recaptured after having been relocated and having returned to Glendale twice already, the attention she brought to the story was instrumental in saving the bear’s life. 

A sanctuary in Colorado offered to take in the bear, and Sarah starting selling Meatball-related merchandise related to the bear (much of it designed by me) to help raise funds for Meatball’s relocation. When the bear was prevented from being sent to the Colorado sanctuary by a Colorado state law; Lions, Tigers & Bears in Alpine, where the bear was being held temporarily, was good enough to step up and take the bear in permanently. Despite having no legal obligation to do so, Sarah donated all of the profits from the merchandise that were initially for the bear’s relocation to LTB (and has receipts). Sarah was also able to get her employer to match her donations, so in total she has been directly responsible for nearly $4,000 in donations to Lions, Tigers & Bears.

In addition to directly donating all merchandise profits (times two, since her employer matched those donations), Sarah promoted Lions, Tigers & Bears’ own fundraising efforts and events, and encouraged her fans to donate directly to the sanctuary. Meatball is a star fundraiser: since that time, Lions, Tigers & Bears has raised nearly $250,000 towards a new bear habitat intended for Meatball and several other bears. At a $100 a person fundraising event I attended at LTB with Sarah and several other friends from Glendale (Sarah bought my ticket, and also bought tickets for several family members), Bobbi Brink, LTB’s founder, told the story of Meatball, and, while a person in a “Meatball” bear costume danced on stage, in a few short minutes raised nearly $30,000 in pledges specifically for the new bear habitat. Sarah’s guests from Glendale, including me, all pulled out our checkbooks and donated to the new habitat.


Enter the book.

Sarah was contacted by a publisher interested in publishing a children’s book about Meatball that Sarah would write. Sarah contacted LTB with the good news:

Hi Bobbi, 

I left a message on your voicemail earlier today. 
Would love to speak with you briefly about an opportunity that came up. 
A publisher contacted me about writing a children's book about Meatball. 
I only want to do it if I can donate part of the proceeds to him at the sanctuary. 
I'm excited about this opportunity and I hope something can be finished in time
for the Christmas party and the Rose Parade. 
Please give me a call so we can discuss this further. 

Best,
Sarah


Bobbi Brink, founder of LTB, spoke to Sarah on the phone: an LTB donor had ALREADY written a children’s book with Meatball that they were planning on publishing. This had never been mentioned to Sarah previously. Sarah contacts LTB’s PR person, Jen:


Hi Jen [LTB PR person],

I just got a call from Bobbi and she told me they already have a children's book coming out for him and will be available starting mid-November. 

I'm really excited about the book coming out, and it will be really great publicity for the fundraiser. Unfortunately, I'm also disappointed that I was completely kept me out of the loop on this one because there are some things that need to be discussed. 

Legally, I registered the copyright to his name first, since April 2012, as soon as the Twitter account started getting a lot of buzz and months before Meatball was sent to LTB. As such, it would be advisable if the sanctuary's attorney (&/or whomever is representing the author and the rights to the children's book) contact me as soon as possible, before the book is released.

Also, I would like to work out an arrangement to still release my own children's book for Meatball and I will donate a portion of the proceeds to the sanctuary as originally planned. 

Hope to speak to you soon,
Sarah


Jen, the PR person responds:

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your email. I have been meaning to email you after I spoke with Bobbi on Wednesday but hadn't had a moment to do so. I'll certainly work with the LTB team to determine the next best steps. Can you tell me, exactly, what you registered for his name (i.e., his public name, "Meatball," or his "Twitter" name, "Meatball the Glendale Bear)? 

Thank you, and we will be in touch soon!

Jen

Sarah responds:

The copyright registration is for all of it, "Meatball" - "Meatball the Glendale Bear" - "Meatball the Bear" and "Glen Bearian."

The trademark is for "Meatball" and "Meatball the Bear" both of which have been in use since April 2012 and sold in commerce since August 2012. I dont want to prevent the sanctuary from raising money in any way nor jeopardize the protections of his name.

The whole point of the registrations was to prevent anyone else from taking advantage of the name and fail to donate the proceeds to the sanctuary, as I have been doing from the beginning. As such, the sanctuary can certainly sell Meatball items to make money for itself but there are licensing and other legal issues that need to be discussed as soon as possible. 

Thanks again for your help!


On October 25th, Sarah was sent and told to sign a legal document from Lions Tigers & Bears’ lawyers that required her to sign over all of her copyright and trademark rights related to Meatball; hand over domain names, turn over existing merchandise, “cease and refrain” from using the Meatball copyright (which would mean handing over or closing @theglendalebear), and “in exchange,” be allowed to return to Lions, Tigers and Bears to visit Meatball. 





In a nutshell: we’ll twist your arm by banning you from visiting the bear you helped save unless you sign everything you’ve created over to us.

Sarah refuses to sign.

In an October 31st e-mail from Sarah to LTB:


You're more than welcome to continue using the name(s). And I will continue to support this bear and the sanctuary. Thanks again for taking such great care of Meatball.

November 1, Bobbi responds:

Sarah
The attorneys will reach out to you

Bobbi Brink
Founder, Director
Lions Tigers & Bears 

On November 12th, after the story broke and in the wake of negative media attention, Bobbi issued the following statement on the LTB facebook page

At no point has LTB demanded control of the twitter handle (@TheGlendaleBear) or formally banned Sarah from the sanctuary. The issue at hand is that LTB has a book at the publisher in which all proceeds will go to Meatball the bear. This book cannot be published because of Sarah’s trademark on the Meatball name. We asked her participation, and she not only declined but threatened with legal action, leaving us unable to move forward with publishing, which would result in the inability to fundraise for the bear.

Let’s review this against the settlement agreement that LTB sent to Sarah and insisted she sign:

"At no point has LTB demanded control of the twitter handle (@TheGlendaleBear)"

Okay, let's check that one:


"or formally banned Sarah from the sanctuary."

Let's check that one too:


"This book cannot be published because of Sarah’s trademark on the Meatball name. We asked her participation, and she not only declined but threatened with legal action, leaving us unable to move forward with publishing, which would result in the inability to fundraise for the bear."

Sarah didn’t “threaten legal action” - she offered them a gratis license that would accommodate their book and fundraising needs but would still keep her trademark protections intact. She explicitly and in writing granted them use of the name for free so they could publish their book and continue to fundraise.

So here are the two key facts that make this entire affair ridiculous:

1) Sarah has, in writing, given Lions, Tigers & Bears permission to use the name Meatball without restrictions, for free.


2) There is no dispute as to who owns the actual copyright and trademark - Sarah registered the copyright in April 2012 and has sold Meatball related merchandise (which activates the trademark) since long before Lions, Tigers & Bears was involved in the Meatball saga. (And though she had no legal obligation to do so, Sarah has donated all profits from Meatball-related merchandise to Lions, Tigers & Bears.)


Anyways, that’s about where we are at the moment. Frankly, the way Sarah has been treated by LTB and the lies they have told make me angry. Despite this, Sarah continues to support Lions Tigers & Bears, but won’t sign away her creative work to visit the bear that she has worked so hard to help. Viva Meatball!


On a more positive note than this absurd episode, Meatball will be featured on the City of Glendale's Rose Parade float this year. On November 23rd the City of Glendale will be holding a fundraiser that includes a meatball tasting competition featuring various meatballs from local restaurants (Sarah's idea!); proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the float and Lions Tigers & Bears. Again, despite the misguided idiocy detailed above, Lions Tigers & Bears does good work and the real bear deserves your support.



19 comments:

Patty Finch said...

I am the Executive Director of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). GFAS accredited Lions, Tigers, and Bears in Alpine, which means they met or surpassed the requirements set forth in more than 90 standards. Bobbi Brink is respected nationally by all the other sanctuaries she has so generously helped, and the rescues she has carried out.

It was NOT Lions, Tiger, and Bears who first brought up trademarks or copyrights, because ordinarily no would try to make money off an animal in a sanctuary! The lifetime costs for the care of these animals is enormous, but now the person who started out helping the bear, wants to make money off the bear, when she has not taken on the life time care costs. She'll give a PORTION of the proceeds from a book she may get written? And meanwhile this turmoil is blocking the publication of another book (already written) by the sanctuary where ALL the profits go to the care of the animals? And trying to make the sanctuary look bad? And what business, nonprofit or not, wants to put their reputation in someone else's hands, especially someone who is attacking? Already, Lions, Tigers and Bears have received a complaint from someone saying they paid for Meatball merchandise but did not receive it. Yet Lions, Tigers and Bears is not the one selling the merchandise. But you can't blame the public for thinking the sanctuary is the one selling things about Meatball. They should be!

Scott said...

Patty,

No one is questioning the accreditation of LTB, their level of care for the animals, or the fact that they are very expensive to care for. But that is irrelevant to the awkward fact that LTB proceeded with a project that they didn't legally have the rights for. Despite that, as you can see from the correspondence, Sarah supported them publishing their book and fundraising and wasn't trying to prevent that.

In response, LTB insisted that Sarah sign over ALL of her preexisting creative work (much of it dating to when Meatball was just a bear running around Glendale) and "cease and refrain" from "use of the Meatball designations" or she wouldn't be able to visit the bear again. That's a shoddy way to treat someone who,in addition to directly donating thousands of dollars to LTB, was largely responsible for generating the public interest that both saved the bear and unquestionably helped LTB's worthy fundraising efforts.

Anonymous said...

There is quite a bit of correspondence and conversations left out! But I assume the attorneys will examine that, without spin.

It is not irrelevant that Lions, Tigers and Bears has taken on the lifetime costs of this bear. In fact, it is the crux of the matter. And also that someone else should not hold the sanctuary's reputation in her hands.

Luckily, one sanctuary did copyright their name and photos, and won a little over a million dollars in a lawsuit.http://bigcatrescue.org/today-at-big-cat-rescue-feb-9-2013-big-cat-rescue-wins/

In another case, a woman was cyber-stalking a sanctuary, trying to ruin their good name, and the sanctuary eventually won a settlement in excess of $6 million. http://batworldwins.com/

Collecting the funds is another matter, and no sanctuary wants this kind of battle.

It would be ridiculous to expect sanctuaries to copyright the name of each of their animals. I helped bring about the prosecution of a terrible horse abuser in AZ. Two of the horses were able to be saved and were sent to a sanctuary. I would never dream of writing a book about those horses without the permission of the sanctuary, and without giving them full editorial control, and without giving them 100% of the profits. That is because I realize how hard sanctuaries work to raise funds. People give when a bear is first rescued, and for updates, but 20 years from now, the sanctuary could well be still caring for that bear, and people get burned out on the giving. Lions, Tigers and Bears receives no government support and doesn't deserve this negative publicity from someone who did a good deed, but now wants to make money off of it, at the expense of the sanctuary. I'm no attorney, but I do know what a decent person would do.

Patty Finch
ED of GFAS www.sanctuaryfederation.org

Anonymous said...

Reading through this soap opera, it looks like the only people who screwed up, here, are the sanctuary's lawyers. It looks like they jumped the gun and sent unreasonable requests without actually reading the emails between Aujero and the sanctuary's PR people.

Way to go, lawyers. Congratulations on making a big stink out of nothing. Classic lawyer move.

AVN said...

I know a veiled multi-million dollar lawsuit when I see one. Stay classy, Patty.

AVN said...

The reputation of the sanctuary is already in someone else's hands. Unfortunately, it's the hands of their lawyers and trade association.

GeorgeL said...

Patty,

With all honesty and no disrespect intended, but I feel like your comments are intended for a completely different article.

Whether what was presented here is one sided or not it has nothing to do with animal abuse. It has nothing to do with cyber stalking.

This person wants nothing more than to help and is being asked to turn over her creative property or be "banned". Since you are bringing up irrelevant examples let us equate this to something the readers of this blog might understand, what LTB is asking for is the equivalent of Retailers asking Apple for all of its creative property or they won't sell Apple product any more. Except in this case, Apple has already granted license to the Retailer to use the names and images that Apple has rights to. Apple has already said, go ahead and publish your book, I give you permission to (called licensing), but I'm retaining my rights.

It really looks like you are trying to make this into a bigger issue that is unrelated to abuse or cyber stalking. Evening mentioning that in this conversation is an insult to the person that has been the biggest advocate for meatball before there was "Meatball".

Scott said...

in response to Patty at 1:59pm:

Patty, in this case, the copyright and trademark for a fictional character named Meatball The Glendale Bear existed long before LTB had the actual bear. As the correspondence shows, Sarah pointed out that there were legal issues but you can clearly see that she wanted to resolve them in a way that allowed LTB to fundraise without restriction but kept her legal protections intact. She states that repeatedly.
The appropriate response from LTB to an offer to use the trademark for free without restriction should have been: thanks, this solves the problem.
Instead, they escalated the situation by sending a settlement agreement that would have required Sarah to turn over all of her preexisting creative work (again, dating to before LTB was involved) to LTB and prevent her from speaking as her fictional bear creation in the future. And instead of being nice about it, they prevented her from visiting the bear and made public statements that are directly contradicted by the settlement agreement they sent. That is the reality of how they have handled the situation -- badly.

in response to anonymous at 2:30:

You nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Patty,

I volunteer regularly at a rescue accredited by your foundation. If emotionally charged messages with ridiculously overblown finger pointing and pathetic insinuations is the way you conduct your business and treat people who don't agree with you, then your badge of approval for Lifesavers Wild Horse Sanctuary's is a blemish, not an honor.

Go troll somewhere else.

-Wild Horse Advocate

Sally said...

Hey Patty!

If you're so concerned about the money part of this don't you think the funds that have already been raised by the bear should have him in his own habitat by now? Why is no one talking about the runaway budget for this enclosure LTB keeps rallying for while the bear stays in the same small enclosure he was first put in?

You're right! People will get burnt out giving money for the bear, especially when it seems like it isn't being managed or utilized appropriately.

Patty said...

Point of clarification. GFAS is not a trade association, nor a foundation. We accredit and verify sanctuaries against strict criteria. Our standards can be found at http://www.sanctuaryfederation.org/gfas/for-sanctuaries/standards/
It is a strictly voluntary process for sanctuaries, rescues, and wildlife rehabilitation centers around the globe.

We are very proud of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue.

Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue:
•Facility is extremely well maintained
•Horse fencing is in wonderful condition and is the recommend 6ft for wild horses and is very secure.
•Attention paid to record keeping was exceptional
•Great overall volunteer involvement
•Natural horsemanship and volunteer evaluations have led to excellent re-homing options for many of the wild horses.

In fact, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue met a very high bar, which involved assessment against 60 some standards.

Just wanted to make sure there was no confusion about that.

I won't be checking this board anymore, nor responding to any other comments. I'm still mystified why one of the best sanctuaries out there, Lions, Tigers and Bears, is being attacked publicly...by a friend of the sanctuary???

Whenever there are animals being abused, I can count on Bobbi Brink and her team to work tirelessly to save those animals. THAT is what deserves publicity. There were six bears I was sure could not be saved. The owner wouldn't give them up, and law enforcement felt their hands were tied. Bobbi worked for more than a year to get the owner to give up the bears and then found sanctuary for all 6. Because of Bobbi Brink, those bears are no longer in caging where they could not even stand up!!!! In fact, it was extremely cruel, small caging. After the rescue, the former owner went online and bad-mouthed Bobbi Brink for calling it a rescue! Those kinds of attacks are expected.

Bobbi also headed up a rescue for GFAS where a sanctuary had run out of funding. 23 big cats and a bear needed placement. I had spent the 4 months prior, just trying to place 3 tigers. I didn't think we could find good placements for all these animals. Bobbi was in charge of approving the placements, and found excellent places. She oversaw the loading of all the animals in a facility not designed for safe transport. In fact, it was a dangerous situation. Lions, Tigers and Bears carried out all the transports. I just wish those kinds of things made headlines and got picked up by CBS, et al. It gets discouraging!Instead the local paper ran a big story in which this sanctuary, which was flat broke, claimed they had to give up their animals because of the new law in Ohio.....which was not even a law when we carried out the rescue.

None of that means Lions, Tigers and Bears couldn't do something wrong, but in this case with the copyright, they have not, in my opinion.They sent a requested contract over, and if there were objections, that could have been handled privately, as it usually is. There is no need for a public attack.


Patty Finch

Anonymous said...

Don't be selfish, it's about the bear not your 15minutes of fame..... Besides he was called meatball by the locals and the media.

Anonymous said...

Sarah and online persona = good
Bobbi and LTB = good
LTB's lawyers = bad
Patty = misguided effort to support LTB that leads to foolishness which we've already seen with LTB's lawyers.

Correspondence/relations between Aujero and LTB appeared fine until LTB's lawyers sent that ridiculous letter. Now they appear to be worsening by GFAS's involvement.

Nailed it, again.

Patty said...

Oops. Typed too fast....I meant Lions Tiger and Bears supervised all the transports and carried out MOST of them.

Captain Kundalini said...

Patty, your arguments are invalid.

Anonymous said...

Patty, how much does GFAS charge to accredit nonprofit animal sanctuaries? Certainly, An Executive Director must get paid enough to do more than just leave despicable comments on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

Patty,

Lifesavers Wild Horse Sanctuary is a fantastic place, believe me, if there was anything wrong with it I wouldn't volunteer my time there. What I'm saying is this. You are the first GFAS representative I have encountered, and I'm appalled by your behavior, especially given the fact that you are the Executive Director.

Sally, as a representative, don't you have better things to do than to come onto a news blog and post rants that try and insinuate that Sarah Aujero is somehow to be likened to people who abused and exploited animals that ACTUALLY suffered? It's exceptionally unprofessional of you and may put your reputation and under the critical eye.

This is between Sarah Aujero and LTB. I understand that you want to back them up and I'm sure they are close friends, but with that in mind, I can't help but notice that you didn't remark at all about how the bear is still in its same small temporary enclosure after a year of MORE than successful fund raising. Why aren't you holding LTB to task on this front?

I see this kind of thing all the time in animal rescues. Everyone believes that since they are involved with a rescue and by virtue of dedicating their time to saving animals that they are without blame no matter what they do. There are a lot of well meaning people out there working animal rescues, but a lot of rescues with the best intentions can often times get into a rut of thinking that any type of critique against them and how they run their business is a direct attack against their organization and the animals they care for. Thus, they do the typical vilification and intimidate that person into leaving. (Thus Sarah is now not allowed to see the bear because she DARED to hold LTB accountable and wasn't going to cave into their bullying behavior). This is Los Angeles, if LTB thinks they're going to muscle someone out of their copyright in this city, you got another thing coming.

LTB not only needs to apologize to Sarah for their ridiculous behavior, but they need to collaborate with her to help continue the donations coming in for Meatball.

Right now, LTB has failed to appropriate and manage funds in a transparent and responsible way. The bear is still in his temporary enclosure despite successful fundraising. That, honestly, is the end of the discussion.

-Wild Horse Advocate

PhyllisHarb said...

Scott, thank you for your well written account. I commend you for backing up your friend. It seems odd that the sanctuary would work on a book without letting Sarah know. Where they trying to hide this from her?

Scott said...

Phyllis,

I know Sarah had asked to be kept in the loop about this stuff so she could use her account to promote it, but from what I understand they've never been that informative. My guess is that a donor had a well-intentioned idea, moved forward with it on their own, presented it to LTB and they said "great, let's print it!" without thinking that much about it.

I would also guess that part of the reason they kept her out of the loop was because last year LTB tried to auction some of Meatball's fur, and Sarah (who is well versed in laws governing wildlife in the state) pointed out that selling the fur was illegal under state law. LTB's intent was good, but they moved forward without doing their research and had to publicly pull the fur auction.

http://articles.glendalenewspress.com/2012-11-08/news/tn-818-1108-auction-of-meatball-memorabilia-to-go-one-sans-lock-of-fur-sanctuary-announces_1_bobbi-brink-furry-fur-meatball-christmas-tree-ornament