On March 20, 2019, well-known horse racing announcer Dave Johnson (“Johnson”) sued the producers and distributors of the film “St. Vincent,” (the “Film”) alleging that the line spoken by actor Bill Murray (“Murray”) “AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME” infringes his trademark.
Johnson, who registered the phrase with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2012, owns the trademark to the famous phrase and alleges that Murray's character's use of it will dilute the mark and create confusion about the source of the phrase. Johnson has also sold merchandise with the phrase on it and uses it on his horse racing radio show.
Johnson states in his complaint: “Decades after Dave Johnson and his use of his trademarked signature phrase became famous throughout the United States and other nations, defendants- some of the world's most lucrative filmmaking and distribution enterprises, and their principals, in the entertainment industry- capitalized on Dave Johnson's celebrity persona, likeness, identity, and voice and his trademarked signature phrase's celebrity and popularity.”
In the Film, which was released on streaming video services and select theaters in 2014, Murray plays an “alcoholic degenerate gambler,” and yells out “AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME” while attending a race at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York, a venue at which Johnson has announced races. The phrase is “inextricably linked” to Johnson's “celebrity persona,” and since the '60s he has used and exploited the widespread recognition of the phrase while announcing races and at other appearances, such as a recurring guest spot on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Johnson alleges “by having the ‘grumpy alcoholic' character use the phrase in a reflection of the ‘dark side of horse racing,' the movie tarnishes the phrase and Johnson's reputation.” The film companies made no move to get Johnson's permission to use the phrase, and have not responded to his letter demanding that they cease and desist.
Johnson is represented by Andrew J. Mollica.
Counsel information for the film companies is not yet available.
The case is Johnson v. The Chernin Group LLC et al., case number 1:19-cv-02485, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
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