8 August 2022TrademarksSarah Speight

Cousteau’s granddaughter settles quarrel with IP owner

Céline Cousteau faced trademark and publicity rights infringement claims over her film documentaries | Society set up to protect IP assets of the late oceanographer had accused her of misusing his trademarks and likeness.

The owner of intellectual property rights relating to Jacques Cousteau—the late French oceanographer, filmmaker and author—has settled a dispute with his granddaughter after she allegedly misused his trademarks and likeness in her film documentaries.

US District Judge Alvin Thompson dismissed the case on Thursday, August 4, without costs or attorneys’ fees, after the parties informed the US District Court for the District of Connecticut last week that they had settled the case.

‘Contumacious’ use of assets

The Cousteau Society (TCS) had first filed a complaint in 2019 against Céline Cousteau and her companies CauseCentric Productions (CPI) and The Céline Cousteau Film Fellowship (CCF, aka The Outdoor Film Fellowship, as successor-in-interest to CPI).

Not-for-profit TCS accused Céline Cousteau et al of the “contumacious use of world-famous explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s name, image, photograph and iconic red cap to promote her various films and foundations”—assets to which it has owned the exclusive, worldwide rights since it was founded in 1973.

The society asserted that, despite being aware of TCS’s IP rights since at least 2017, Céline had infringed her grandfather’s assets in her film documentaries “Tribes on the Edge” (2019) and “Céline Cousteau, The Adventure Continues”.

She was also accused of “unlawfully using Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s name and likeness on CPI and CCF’s website to advertise and promote her film projects and foundations”.

The plaintiff added that the defendants intentionally infringed TCS’s intellectual property rights and Jacques Cousteau’s publicity rights “to portray the illusion of an association that does not exist”.

TCS, which is headquartered in Virginia, US, and currently has more than 50,000 members worldwide, also pointed out that none of the defendants was a member of the society.

The court subsequently denied some of TPS’s trademark-infringement claims against Céline in 2020, but granted other claims over trademarks and publicity rights to continue.

Family feuds

Céline Cousteau and her immediate family were said to be estranged from her grandfather for years prior to his death.

As a result of what the plaintiff described as “their misuse of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s name and likeness for their own commercial ‘endeavours”—including Céline’s father Jean-Michel Cousteau opening a resort in Fiji named “Cousteau’s’ in 1995—Jacques took legal action to protect his IP rights.

In 2014, Céline also publicly acknowledged her use and exploitation of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s name, image, and legacy for her own personal gain, according to TCS.

In an interview with “WAG” magazine, Céline said: “I am leveraging my famous family history to communicate important stories about threats to our environment. I have arrived at where I am supposed to be.”

During his lifetime, Jacques Cousteau—who co-invented the first open-circuit SCUBA set and made the first underwater documentaries—established TCS to promote and protect his legacy and further his life’s work, according to the society.

In its ongoing work, TPS—whose board of directors include Cousteau’s widow and their children—advocate for and promote global oceanic and environmental awareness, including the UNESCO-Cousteau Ecotechnie Programme.

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