The gravity of the event had not yet fully sunk in. Families of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks were just beginning to grasp the reality that, after 10 long years, the loss of their loved ones had been avenged. It was just two days after the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound and the country was still trying to make sense of the mission—how it would affect our national psyche and what it would mean to our long-term fight against terrorism.
And then the headline streamed across the bottom of our televisions: Disney had filed an application to trademark the term “SEAL Team 6,” the name of the group of elite Navy SEALS whose task it was to take down Osama Bin Laden. The incompatibility between Disney and the Bin Laden raid made the news almost leap from the screen. Why on earth would Disney want to become associated with this?
It turns out Disney filed the application in anticipation of developing a television show based on the Navy SEALS. The show was to have a tone similar to the hit CBS show, NCIS and the now-cancelled, JAG. Disney had wanted develop a show that celebrated the heroism of the elite Special Forces unit. The application, however, listed additional proposed uses of the name for products which made it appear as though Disney was simply trying to capitalize on the Bin Laden raid.
In addition to “entertainment and education services,” Disney’s trademark application for “SEAL Team 6” listed toys, games, hand-held units for playing electronic games, gymnastic and sporting articles, clothing, footwear and headwear, Christmas stockings, Christmas tree ornaments and decorations, and snow globes.
Late night comedy shows attacked. John Stewart on The Daily Show with John Stewart likened the move to “trying to copyright the guys who stormed the beaches of Normandy or the Statute of Liberty…It belongs to all of us.”
The Navy responded by filing its own trademark applications for the terms “Navy SEALS” and “SEAL Team.” The battle lines had been drawn, and it was a fight Disney was destined to lose.
Whether Disney had a legal right to the trademark is a matter of some debate, the resolution of which surely would have involved very long and very public litigation. What is clear, however, is that Disney was in the midst of a public relations nightmare. The swiftness of their application was, from a business standpoint, brilliant. For some, though, it just seemed slick.
This past week, “out of deference to the Navy’s application for these trademarks,” Disney withdrew its trademark application.
To be fair, Disney is not the first media conglomerate to attempt to trademark military-related terms. Several years ago, Paramount Pictures applied to trademark “JAG,” the name of the once popular television series based on the Navy lawyers unit, the Judge Advocate General Corps. More recently, CBS sought to trademark “NCIS.” The Naval Criminal Investigation Service, the Navy’s law enforcement unit that is the subject of a weekly CBS hit drama. Both applications are pending.
The important and obvious difference between the Paramount and CBS applications and the Disney application is the solemnity of anything associated with the September 11, 2001 attacks or our nation’s ensuing fight on terror. We all were affected that day, so the “SEAL Team 6” mission—and name—does “belong to all of us,” as John Stewart pointed out.
That Disney withdrew its trademark application, in part, due to negative public reaction should not diminish the credit it should be given for doing so. Disney acted swiftly and boldly and, arguably, within its legal rights in filing the application. Disney’s equally swift and bold abandonment of the application should not go unnoticed.
Contributed by: John Marchese (NDD#172) John is the DDL Media Relations Blogger.