"Taco the Toco Toucan"
5 x 7 inches
India ink on Bristol board.
Thrown for a Loop, or, Can a Corporation Copyright a Toucan?
In 2011, the Maya Archaeology Initiative, a non-profit organization, received legal notification that their toucan logo was infringing on the copyright of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal mascot, Toucan Sam.
The only problem was, MAI’s toucan looked nothing like Toucan Sam. Not by a long shot. One was a stylized depiction of a particular toucan species with a Mayan temple background, and the other was, well, a cartoon character whose bill mimicked food-coloring.
Turns out, Kellogg’s had a long history of going after any company that had a toucan on it, from pruning shears to tiki bars. Even a steel drum band called “The Toucans”received stern notification that their name was snagging profits from the world’s largest cereal manufacturer. And most of the time, the smaller companies had to back down, regardless of the dissimilarity or unproven product competition.
But by 2011, the age of ubiquitous Social Media was well underway; word soon got out about MAI’s plight, and the massive legal costs that the non-profit would have to bear due to the blanket practice of opposing each and every toucan.
Consequently, Kelloggs dropped the copyright opposition claim and, in order to repair what was becoming a bad look for public relations, donated $100,000 to one of MAI’s projects.
It was a good outcome for all, but it highlights just how zealous — and downright loopy — legal departments can be.
A Toco Toucan (whose name is NOT Sam).