JibJab and Toyota

Cold Hard Flash brings news of a legal case that JibJab is pursuing against Toyota over this spot:

Click the following link to download a PDF of the complaint for damages to the California District Courts. JibJab is holding Toyota responsible for the ad, instead of Hoffman Lewis, the ad agency that produced the spot. The website TubeFilter summarized the document’s complaints:

1. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “…intentionally, knowingly and wilfully copied the JibJab Works in order to personally benefit from the widespread customer recognition and acceptance of said works and to capitalize upon the market created by these works.”
2. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. made “unauthorized use of the JibJab Logo in interstate commerce and advertising…”
3. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.’s “use of the JibJab Logo in its commercials is likely to confuse, mislead, or deceive consumers, the public, and trade as to the origin, source, sponsorship, or affiliation of said products, and is intended, and is likely to cause such parties to believe in error that [Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.]’s products have been authorized, sponsored, approved, endorsed or licensed by JibJab…”
4. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “intended to capitalize on [JiBJab]’s goodwill associated therewith for [its] own pecuniary gain.”

It should be noted that the offending spot is actually a visual mash-up of two different JibJab productions–the cut-out style animation of Founding Father’s Rap and the Starring You Tap Dance in which users can insert different heads on top of a live-action actor.

Personally, as unoriginal as I find the ad agency’s use of these techniques, copying someone’s graphic style–especially ones like these that aren’t exclusive to JibJab–would be a dubious case. However, Hoffman Lewis made the fatal mistake of also copying JibJab’s well-established animated trademark (the heads of the brothers who say “Jib” and “Jab”). In my eyes, that changes the dynamic of the entire commercial because it signals a clear intent on Toyota’s part to deceive viewers into thinking that JibJab created the spot.

Obviously, let me say that I’m no lawyer, but I have served as an expert witness for major corporations in similar infringement cases. Often times, the “this company stole my idea” claim is frivolous, especially when it’s coming from an amateur artist or writer with no industry experience or understanding of how the business works. In this instance though, I feel that JibJab has a legitimate concern. Judges seem to agree so far too: Toyota has twice requested a judge to dismiss the suit, and both times the judge has nixed Toyota’s motion.

It’ll be interesting to watch how this case plays out through the legal system and who ends up on top. Perhaps it’ll also serve as a wake-up call to all the ad agencies who freely take their ideas from existing animated films produced by independent filmmakers and small companies that lack JibJab’s resources to defend themselves.

(Disclosure: JibJab is a sponsor of Cartoon Brew’s 2011 Student Animation Festival. I learned about this case though by reading about it on Cold Hard Flash.)

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Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cartoon Brew.

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