He spews radioactive fire, razes cities and pummels creatures from Earth and beyond, but even Godzilla needs a good lawyer sometimes. After all, you don’t survive 60 years in the movie business without taking some fights to court.
For decades, attorneys acting on behalf of Godzilla’s owners, Tokyo-based Toho Co. Ltd., have amassed a string of victories, fighting counterfeiters and business titans such as Comcast and Honda along the way. The opponents have come from all corners of pop culture: TV commercials, video games, rap music and even the liquor industry. The litigation has kept Godzilla’s brand thriving and helped pave the way for commercial and merchandising tie-ins that will accompany the monster’s return to the big screen on Friday after a 10 year hiatus. Godzilla’s image is for sale, but permission is needed.
Toho’s attorneys use copyright and trademark law as effectively as Godzilla uses his tail and claws to topple buildings and swat opponents. Their court injunctions have permanently whacked music, books and movies from store shelves.
Since the mid-1980s, Chuck Shephard of the Los Angeles law firm of Greenberg Glusker has been Godzilla’s lead lawyer, filing suits like the one against a wine called Cabzilla that resulted in a winemaker being forced to dump its stock of Cabernet Sauvignon down the drain.
“Godzilla is just as protected as Mickey Mouse,” said Shephard in a recent interview. Toho’s lucrative licensing efforts, which include endorsements, toys, comic books, video games and even official wine and sake brands, require the company to be vigilant against copycats, he said.
Since 1991, Toho’s attorneys have filed at least 32 copyright and trademark lawsuits and countless warning letters, gaining court injunctions in a quarter of the cases. Most others have resulted in settlement agreements that while confidential, result in products disappearing from the marketplace.