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Our attempt to explain the reasons behind the absence of Discovery Communications’ mascot for Shark Week the other day struck a nerve with a Silver Spring-based blogger who claims that Discovery is misspelling the name of the giant inflatable shark it sometimes—but not this year—affixes to its headquarters.
Though official Discovery releases for Shark Week 2010 called the five-piece installation “Chompie,” the author of the blog Silver Spring, Singular claims the network appropriated the name from his writings in 2006, the first year the shark was mounted. In an August 2006 post following that year’s Shark Week, the blogger, who did not give his name to Washington City Paper but was identified as Karl Ericson by The Washington Post in 2007, wrote the following:
There is deep sadness in the Silver Spring community today. The inflatable shark that we have all come to know and love over the past two weeks has been unceremoniously deflated (or as I see it, murdered) by the cruel folks at Discovery. I guess because Shark Week is over he has outlived his usefulness as a marketing gimmick and they can just throw him out like yesterday’s garbage. To them he may just have been a big balloon blocking their view, but I feel like the shark (or “Chompy”, as I came to call him) had become part of our Silver Spring family. We will all miss him. Please keep Chompy in your prayers tonight.
Discovery did not name the shark the first time it loomed over Downtown Silver Spring. The installation—made for Discovery by CMEANN Productions, a California-based maker of large-scale, inflatable promotion devices—was simply referred to as a “giant inflatable shark.” A video on Discovery’s website that Ericson forwarded to WCP shows the manufacturing and deployment of the shark, but does not offer a name for the beast.
Ericson and his readers took to calling the thing Chompy, but when it finally reappeared last year after sitting out Shark Weeks from 2007 to 2009, Discovery’s press release opened by proclaiming that “‘Chompie’ [had] returned to the Discovery Communications headquarters.” Silver Spring, Singular continued to use its in-house spelling, though in post marking the beast’s last-known sighting, Ericson slipped and called him “Chompie” once. (Though the same post included a wonderful GIF of Chompie dressed for the Players’ Ball.)
I, too, assumed “Chompy” was the correct spelling earlier in the week. When I asked Tammy Shea, Discovery’s vice president for corporate communications for the proper spelling, she corrected me but added that she would confirm the name.
“I shouldn’t doubt my own press release,” Shea said when she called back.
But even though Ericson may have coined “Chompy” long before Discovery gave its Shark Week mascot a similarly-sounding name, there’s very little he can do about it, says Seth Shelden, an adjunct professor of intellectual property law at Cardozo School of Law in New York.
“There’s just no trademark protection for inventing a word or short phrase that you don’t use in association with something that you’re selling,” Shelden says. Ericson hasn’t suggested doing anything more than being miffed about the difference in spelling, but the rest of us are probably better off using Discovery’s spelling.
“I mean, try on this analogy: If I started calling Radio Shack ‘Da Shak’ in my blog in 2005, that wouldn’t give me any legal right to dictate that when they rebranded as The Shack in 2009 that they spell it my way just because I thought of the phrase first,” Shelden says. “Perhaps the public thinks they should give me credit for having inspired the rebranding, and the media reports on that, and perhaps as a matter of public relations they decide to give me credit or make a change. But I can’t think of a reason that they’d be compelled to give me credit or compensation under trademark law. And that’s because trademark law isn’t interested in protecting creativity; it’s interested in ensuring that consumers aren’t confused about the source of a good or a service.”
So Chompie it is.