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:
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.
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:
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,
Jen, the PR person responds:
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!
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:
The attorneys will reach out to you
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.