America has clearly gone trademark and copyright crazy. The music industry lobby is paying politicians millions and millions of dollars to convince them to practically make “illegal” downloading of music a capital crime punishable by the cruel and unusual treatment of death by listening to 24 hours of music by Journey and Celine Dion. The Walt Disney Company actually sues people for using the likenesses of characters and stories they stole from the Brothers Grimm. Fox and News Corp. are notorious for shutting down non-profit Simpsons fan sites because they dared to give them 24 hour free advertising by using images and sounds from the show without paying for the privilege. But now comes perhaps the most ridiculous example of an American going all Cheney over what he views as copyright or trademark infringement. Who would have thought such a thing would ever come from that homey sheriff of Mayberry?
Andy Griffith, who portrayed the Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry throughout most of the 1960s, is suing a man who legally changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith. William Harold Fenrick changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith (and don’t you think the estate of Pres. Andrew Jackson has a case here as well?) for that most American of reasons: profit. But not the kind of profit that typically brings up cases of this kind. In fact, Fenrick-Griffith says he didn’t even try to make a dime off the actor’s likeness. You see, Fenrick-Griffith wanted to be like Andy Taylor; he made a run for sheriff. After failing miserably, he decided to change his name in order to get himself a little notoriety. For the record, he wound up a distant third the second time around as well.
Andy Griffith the actor filed the lawsuit asking that Fenrick-Griffith apologize to the good people of his district for trying to mislead them into thinking that he was associated with the former star of The Andy Griffith Show. He also asked the court to force Fenrick return to his original name.
The tendency is to view this move by Griffith as oppositional to his role as the easygoing, laid back sheriff Andy Taylor on his TV show. But a closer examination reveals that Griffith’s stance on this issue is completely in keeping with Andy Taylor’s worldview. For instance, Sheriff Taylor is typically regarded as the ideal single parent father. But anyone who has watched the show regularly knows that Taylor consistently failed to believe in his son Opie, rushing to judgment on his son’s motivations for actions he considered questionable. Opie was made to feel horrible on any number of occasions before Taylor finally got around to digging for the truth. Notice the resemblance to this real life case? And then there’s Andy Taylor’s misogyny. Andy Taylor didn’t think a woman was suited to run for City Council, couldn’t shoot a gun in competition as well as a man, and were all a bunch of gossipy busybodies. It seems that the narrow-mindedness of Andy Taylor may well have been a reflection of the man who played him.
The threat of copyright and trademark infringement lawsuits is starting to become a drain on American creativity. In response, I am calling upon every Associated Content producer to make a video in the next month using a copyrighted song, but homemade images. If action isn’t taken soon to stop the madness, pretty soon we won’t even be able to mention famous people in our articles without facing the threat of lawsuit. Oh, and if you are considering naming that baby in your belly Brad Pitt or Reese Witherspoon, think again. You just may find a lawyer waiting for you in your hospital room.