TAMPA — People were throwing around “Oscars” and “Academy” pretty loosely in Tampa when the Bollywood version of the venerable Hollywood glitzfest came to town.
Well cut it out, say the folks behind the original.
The International Indian Film Academy brought its 15th awards ceremony to the U.S. for the first time in April, pitching the Tampa event as a way to grow the Bollywood brand in a major global market.
They sure succeeded in getting the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“The Academy does not want anyone to mistakenly assume there is a relationship between the International Indian Film Academy (‘IIFA’) and the Academy,” says an email sent to organizations including The Tampa Tribune by a law firm representing the academy, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
The academy holds a federal trademark on “Oscar” and “Academy Awards” for award ceremonies, the firm says, so it requests that future articles refrain from using the terms “Bollywood Oscars” or “International Indian Film Academy Awards.”
The Indian academy did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Tampa attorneys who specialize in trademark law said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could force the Indian academy to change its name or the name of its awards if it decides to return to the U.S.
“Trademark infringement lawsuits comes down to consumer confusion,” said John Rizvi, a registered patent attorney with the law firm of Gold & Rizvi. “What the plaintiff has to show is that the consumers are misled into finding an affiliation between the two organizations if there is none.”
The Indian academy does not use the phrase “Bollywood Oscars or “International Indian Film Academy Awards” on its official website or in any of its literature.
The closest it comes is the slogan “Bollywood Goes Hollywood With Its Version of Oscars.”
The website carefully avoids directly copying the original with phrases such as “International Indian Film Academy Weekend and Awards” and “IIFA Awards.”
However, Rizvi said the word “Weekend” and the acronym “IIFA” may not be enough.
“Can the Indian academy say they have tried to distinguish themselves? Yes,” he said. “But then the question could be whether or not that attempt was successful or enough.”
The overlap didn’t start in Tampa.
An Internet search reveals headlines across the world using the phrase “Bollywood Oscars” to describe the annual shows as they moved from country to country during the past 14 years.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the “International Indian Film Academy Awards.”
Ticket broker StubHub refers to the 2014 show as the International Indian Film Academy Awards. And the Internet Movie Database — an online archive of information related to films, television programs, and video games — lists the 2000 and 2012 show under that name.
Rizvi said these examples can be used by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to prove there is confusion in the marketplace despite the efforts of the Indian Academy to separate the two.
If this becomes an issue for the courts must decide, he added, the Hollywood academy would probably hire an independent company to conduct a survey of whether the public confuses the two shows.
If so, the Indian academy could be forced to add a disclaimer on all its literature and change the name of any future shows in the U.S.
The trademark might apply in other countries, too.
“There are international treaties that state if a trademark is considered famous then the trademark offices of other countries would have to reject the Indian Academy’s name,” Rizvi said. “A decision could be on a country by country basis.”
Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of the tourism group Visit Tampa Bay, helped bring the Indian awards to Tampa but said Tuesday he hadn’t heard of the flap yet.
Corrada said he will not change the references on the Visit Tampa Bay’s website unless someone complains.
“I guess IIFA made some noise in the U.S. and that was their goal,” he said.