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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Defending Sonny’s Brand

George Christie’s television show has problems.
The other night  Outlaw Chronicles: Hells Angels was cablecast opposite Kurt Sutter’s The Bastard Executioner and its audience dwindled. It is now averaging about 915,000 viewers per airing. The show’s audience peaked with the second episode. Entertainment executives usually prefer that television shows build audiences rather lose them.
On top of that the production has obviously offended Ralph “Sonny” Barger, a founder of the Hells Angels and, for most of the world, the face of the club. Christie, who was run out of the Angels in disgrace, has blamed Barger for his expulsion and has insinuated, and more, that for the last half century he has been the seminal member of the club. That is the most basic lie Christie’s “reality” program tells. Anybody who knows anything about the Angels knows that the club is fiercely egalitarian and decision making is widely dispersed. Then there is the matter that Christie didn’t join until about 20 years after Barger did.
The club simply has no single decision maker but Barger is a sort of spiritual leader who has led by fierce example and with a humility that is beyond Christie’s grasp. Christie has long sought to discredit Barger, for reasons that would seem to be more explicable in a novel – something by Dostoevsky maybe – than in a cheesy TV show. But that seems to be the dramatic arc the producers have plotted. The big climax of Outlaw Chronicles is supposed to be an episode titled “Sonny versus George.” In an instant, in a mere three words, Christie has declared himself to be Barger’s equal or more. It seems like a short step from that to the worldwide marketing of “George Christie An American Legend” tee shirts.

The Brand

This week Barger’s intellectual property attorney (yes he has an intellectual property attorney) wrote a letter to A&E Televisions Networks, the History Channel, Shaw Media and Shaw Communication who collectively produce and profit from the stories Christie is telling.
“As you are aware,” the letter begins, “Mr. Sonny Barger is an actor, author, speaker, and businessman who has achieved success and notoriety due, in part, to his role as a prominent member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Mr. Sonny Barger’s fame and reputation has resulted in the Sonny Barger brand (the ‘Sonny Barger Brand’) becoming a commercial asset of great value to Mr. Sonny Barger and his affiliated companies. In addition to common law rights, Mr. Sonny Barger and his affiliates own a federal trademark registration for the SONNY BARGER mark as well as several pending trademark applications for various goods and services (collectively, the ‘Sonny Barger Marks’).”
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“It has come to our attention,” the letter continues, “that HISTORY plans to air an episode of the Show titled “Sonny vs. George” on or about September 22, 2015, and we are under the belief that there has already been a great deal of marketing utilizing the Sonny Barger Brand and/or the Sonny Barger Marks.”

Cease And Desist

“Please be advised, you or your related business entities are not licensed or in any way authorized by Sonny Barger or his affiliated companies to use the Sonny Barger Brand or the Sonny Barger Marks for any purpose whatsoever, specifically including any use in or connection with the Show. We believe that, absent the express written consent of Mr. Sonny Barger, the use of the Sonny Barger Brand or the Sonny Barger Marks by you or your related business entities is an infringement of Mr. Sonny Barger and his affiliated companies’ rights, including, but not limited to, rights to the Sonny Barger trademarks and brand, and may further constitute other violations of statutory and common law rights.”
“Mr. Sonny Barger and his affiliated companies take violations of their intellectual property and their rights thereunder very seriously,” the letter concludes, “and plan to protect such rights utilizing any legal avenues available in both law and equity. Accordingly, on behalf of Mr. Sonny Barger and his affiliated companies, we hereby demand that you and your subsidiaries, networks, and affiliates immediately comply with the following:
1.    Cease and desist from any and all use of the Sonny Barger Brand and the Sonny Barger Marks and any versions of such brand or marks; and
2.    Cease and desist from any and all development, sale, distribution, promotion and airing of any and all products and services in connection with the Sonny Barger Brand and the Sonny Barger Marks, or any names or marks confusingly similar to Sonny Barger.