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The Case of Frankie Carbone v. Mafia Louie

Written by: on December 22, 2014 | Category: Blog | Tags:

Scene: Frank Sivero, American actor, sits in Los Angeles apartment in 1989, preparing for the role of a lifetime – Frankie Carbone in Goodfellas.  One apartment over two writers sit, thoughtfully composing the early episodes of a new serial cartoon called The Simpsons, among them perhaps was the Season 3 episode where “Mafia Louie” was introduced.

Like the genesis of the Reese’s™ peanut butter cup, these two cultural juggernauts came together to be greater than the sum of their parts – in the form of the Simpsons character “Mafia Louie.”  A star is born … and then – a mere 23 years later – becomes the subject of a lawsuit.

Actor, Frank Sivero, filed a lawsuit in California last week, for misappropriation of name/likeness and infringement of his right of publicity.  Defendants include: Fox Studios; Matt Groening, co-creator; James L. Brooks, producer; and miscellaneous writers, including his former neighbors as described above (not named in the complaint).  Plaintiff Sivero claims that the Mafia Louie character unfairly misappropriated the Frankie Carbone character in Goodfellas, unfairly stealing his genius and diluting the intellectual property of the character’s persona.  As recited in the Facts of the Complaint, Sivero was solely responsible for the Frankie Carbone character, because he, as an established actOR, was not restricted to a script.

Interestingly, Sivero asks for relief (in the form of $250 million) because Mafia Louie misappropriation has led to “loss of likeness,” causing Sivero to be typecast in the wiseguy role and unable to find work (recent credits include the 2008 made-for-TV movie, Shark Swarm).  This claim, essentially arguing that The Simpsons made Frankie Carbone a cultural mainstay, seems incongruous with a claim of dilution, which requires a plaintiff to demonstrate the uniqueness and fame of his protected mark or asset and then show how the infringing article makes it less unique and famous.  Even more interesting is the duration of time from the first appearance of Mafia Louie on The Simpsons (1991) to the filing of the lawsuit (2014).  Maybe Sivero happened to catch the month-long Simpsons marathon on FXX.

Not to be outdone, Family Guy is quick to point out that they have the character, “Big Fat Paulie,” who is modeled after every portly gangster character ever.

Nicole J. O’Hara, a member of the firm’s Business Services Group, has specific experience with intellectual property law. She works with businesses large and small, advancing and managing patent portfolios, drafting patent applications, and resolving trademark, copyright, trade secret, and patent-related issues. Nicole also negotiates contracts for the commercialization of intellectual property including licenses, confidentiality, material transfer, inter-institutional, service, and research contracts.

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