Toho Tells Comcast, "Didn't You Learn From Subway? You Can't Use Godzilla To Sell Cable TV!"

Written By: Ken Hulsey
Source: Advertising Age

Many of you may remember back to April of 2008, when Toho studios sued the sandwich chain, Subway, for using a dinosaur that vaguely looked like their iconic movie monster, "Godzilla". Well apparently the cable television provider, Comcast, either missed, or forgot about, that one, because they themselves are now being sued by the Japanese movie studio for actually using Godzilla in a television commercial.

The ad in question features a giant monster, which is unmistakably "Godzilla", fighting a giant robot in an animated sequence. The appearance is sort of brief, quickly showing the monster in combat against the robot in a fictional world dubbed "Comcast Town", then the fight is seen again on a television screen in an apartment.

Now, when it comes to the "Subway" advertisement, there could be some doubt on whether the monster in the commercial is actually "Godzilla", honestly it appears to be nothing more than a giant green T-Rex, but in this case no one could argue that the big green monster here isn't actually Toho's pride and joy, and their lawyers agree.

Charles N. Shephard, lawyer for Toho and partner at Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker, explains, "Take any major iconic, copyrighted fictional character, whether it be Mickey Mouse or Darth Vader. If you are going to use those figures as the centerpiece of a national advertising campaign, you have to pay the dollars to do so."

And how much would such an appearance cost?

"Reasonable value of what [Comcast and Goodby] have taken," an amount Shephard estimates at "certainly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more."

So far Goodby Silverstein & Partners (the ad agency who produced the commercial) and Comcast representatives have remained hush about the suite, only making the brief statement, "Comcast does not believe there has been any copyright infringement."

Despite their obvious belief to the contrary, it appears to me that the cable TV giant may have to pay up for this one. I don't think anybody would back them in their claim, that the monster in the ad in question could be anything else but "Godzilla."

According to the law suite, Toho first learned of the commercial back in March when it first aired, at that time they sent a cease-and-desist letter to Comcast, who, at the time, agreed to pull the ad. According to Mr. Shephard, the ads continued to air for months.

"We found out about the advertising campaign in March and asked them immediately to stop running it. Eventually they did stop running it, but it took them quite a while to do so. We're not dealing with unsophisticated companies here. We've got a major advertiser in Comcast and a major ad agency in Goodby, and they should not have done it."

See Also: Toho Sues Subway Over Monster Sandwich Add

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  1. Hey Ken,

    Toho is right, the monster is unquestionably Godzilla.

  2. I wonder if the producers ever paid Toho to use the Godzilla figure in "Rosanne"?

  3. Armand, I don't think that's the same issue. The toy on "Rosanne" was an actual Godzilla figure, made by a company who had paid the license fees to Toho to make the figure. Said figure was never, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere but in the background of several shots and was never a major focus of the show. I think "fair use" covers that.

    The difference is, of course, that Godzilla is featured prominently in Comcast's ad (and unlike Subway's ad, it's definitely Godzilla) and is thus being used to sell a product meaning that the company is profiting from the use of a recognized character without offering the creators/owners of said character a dime for the permission to use him.

    That's most definitely not "fair use."