Many thoughts come to mind when hearing the name Justin Bieber: screaming teenyboppers, Bieber Fever, heartthrob, Beliebers…maybe even the Disney pop-princess Selena Gomez? What is clear is that, regardless of one’s opinion of him, Bieber is a global sensation, and currently has one of the most recognizable celebrity faces on the planet. Thus, it comes as no surprise that businesspeople often attempt to use his likeness, whether agreed to by Bieber or not, in order to turn a profit.
On February 13, 2012, Justin Bieber’s lawyers strongly advised one such company to cease and desist the use of Bieber’s likeness… in a mobile game application.
This game called “Joustin’ Beaver,” owned by the company RC3, Inc., costs just $ 0.99 to buy, and
touts a handsome looking beaver (as far as cartoon beavers go) with strangely familiar sideswiped hair. The description of the game reads:
“International SUPERSTAR Joustin’ Beaver needs your help! He’s floating down the river on a world tour to meet as many fans and sign as many ‘Otter-graphs’ as he can. But the ‘Phot- Hogs’ will stop at nothing to get a photo of JB when he least expects it. Help Joustin’ Beaver navigate the river, sign ‘Otter-graphs.’ and knock ‘Phot- Hogs’ into the river with his lance… do not let JB get caught up in the ‘Whirlpool of success or you could both spin out of control!”
The similarities between the premise of this mobile application and Mr. Bieber’s life are too obvious to ignore. The question becomes, is this use of Bieber’s likeness legal?
According to the cease and desist letter from Bieber’s attorney written to RC3, the application’s use of Bieber’s likeness is unauthorized and is a “direct and blatant infringement of [his] right to publicity.” The letter goes on to list at least ten different legal violations the application has committed due to the infringement of Bieber’s likeness including trademark infringement and unfair competition. Coming from such a huge star, this letter would be frightening enough to stop production immediately for many companies in order to avoid the costs of litigating such a matter.
However, RC3 has surprisingly fought back. On February 24, 2012, RC3 filed a complaint in the Middle District of Florida for declaratory judgment in order to claim its legal right to continue to sell the mobile game. The suit states that although “Joustin’ Beaver,” clearly uses Justin Bieber’s success in its game, the use is a completely legal parody. RC3’s complaint refutes every claim Bieber’s attorneys listed in the cease and desist letter. Obviously, this mobile game application is nowhere near backing down to the mega star, and it should be interesting to see how this issue unfolds.