A Legal Analysis of Tiger King, Episode 4: “Playing with Fire”

May 27, 2020

By: Thomas K. Rinaldi and Joshua M.C. O'Neill

What is a name or brand worth? For Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic, a name can be worth millions of dollars. Joe renamed himself “Exotic” and took on the name “Tiger King” (coined by Rick Kirkam). To create his brand, Joe sat on a throne in a mud pit, surrounded by caged tigers. Carole Baskin was aptly known as the “Big Cat Lady” as she traveled the United States as a self-proclaimed advocate for wildlife, draped in cat prints.   

A name can be strictly personal or used for business purposes. Carole used her persona and name to raise money to operate her Big Cat Rescue. Joe used his to promote his zoo, music career and political career and to woo his two husbands. Once a unique name is used in a creative manner in an original work, the creator can obtain copyright for its use and distribution.

Unfortunately, Joe took a major misstep when he created Big Cat Entertainment and allegedly ”borrowed” the logo used by Carole’s Big Cat Rescue. After speaking to Joe about defamation, I would advise him about trade name and copyright infringement issues.  

Joe exposed himself to significant liability when he used a logo similar to that used by Carole. If only Joe had realized Carole’s new husband, Howard, graduated from law school, perhaps he would not have taken this course of action or registered the newly formed business in Florida (with a Florida address and telephone number).

Carole needed only to establish four facts to succeed in her copyright infringement action: (1) a work in which copyright can exist; (2) a copyright exists, (3) she owns the copyright in the work; and (4) the copyright in the work has been infringed.  

Don’t be like Joe. Realize that in certain circumstances, before using a logo, you may want to consult with an attorney. If you feel that your copyright has been infringed, please feel free to contact Thomas K. Rinaldi in Florida, a.k.a. the “Attorney Ordinary,” or Joshua O’Neill in New York to discuss your options.