48 Hour Magazine gets cease and desist letter from CBS

48 Hour Magazine, the project I took part in earlier this month in which a team of Bay Area journalists and designers created a print magazine in two days, received a cease-and-desist letter from CBS, owner of the 48 Hours TV series:
On May 11, Lauren Marcello, the assistant general counsel at CBS sent a cease and desist letter, noting that "CBS is the owner of the rights in the award-winning news magazine televison series, '48 Hours,' and its companion series, including '48 Hours Mystery,'" adding later in the letter, "your use is unlawful and constitutes trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition ..." along with a lot of other complicated, vaguely threatening legalese.

..."To be honest, none of us even knew that there was still a program called '48 Hours,' so it never crossed our mind," said Mr. Honan. "When we were finished, we all felt like we had accomplished something significant, that there was a magazine there. It is the thingness of it, the physical evidence of the weekend that is so great. But the unfortunate truth I guess is that unlike what we said in the editor's letter, you can't do anything really large scale in contemporary society without have a legal team and a corporation."

The staff of 48 Hour Magazine has hired lawyers and are sorting things out. Update

48 HR magazine experiment big hit, except for that part about the lawyers [NYTimes]


  1. That’s OK, have the producers of the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte classic “48 Hours” sue CBS. Hilarity ensues.

  2. A group of journalists was unaware that there was a program called “48 Hours”?


    It’s been on TV for more than twenty years.

    1. “It’s been on TV for more than twenty years.”

      Coincidentally, about the same length of time since I’ve paid much attention to TV, and I’ll go the authors one better — not only did I not know there was still a show called “48 Hours”, I don’t think I knew there ever was one. On one hand, you do have a point about them being journalists. On the other hand, I can’t find it in my heart to blame them for completely ignoring CBS.

    2. “A group of journalists was unaware that there was a program called “48 Hours”? … Seriously? … It’s been on TV for more than twenty years.”

      If you’d asked me about it before reading this story I would have been willing to wager money that it had been canceled years ago. I even still own a TV and everything, and I could have sworn they took it off the air.

  3. The 48 hours movie isn’t an informational magazine. So trademark wouldn’t be an issue with the movie.

    They could call it 2880 Minutes Magazine!

    Then get 60 Minutes to claim dilution.

  4. And there are the 48 hr Film Challenges CBS should sue them.

    this is what happens when corporations buy rights to common vernacular and well pretty much anything.

    Abolish the Trade Mark!

  5. If Big Media is so determined to lose the hearts & minds of its own audiences and close up shop, could they please, please do so much faster?

  6. The first thing the lawyer for the magazine might do is check with the USPTO and find out if CBS actually *has* a registered mark for that combination of words for magazines, as opposed to TV. A cursory search on the public search tool available at uspto.gov seems to show that they do not. IANAL, but can they actually sue over a trademark they don’t hold? Can Peter Pan bus lines sue the makers of Peter Pan peanut butter?

  7. @vitruvian#12 — Are you suggesting that national/multinational media outfits are bullying the little guy with unfounded claims. How dare you!!

    Seriously tho — VERY GOOD POINT.

  8. It is utterly ludicrous that people can copyright generic terms in this way. If I make a magazine with 24 sections, or start a company with 24 experts, am I now forbidden from calling it ’24’?

    It’s the same problem with ugh boots. ‘Ugh’ is a generic term for a sheepskin boot that has been used in Australia since at least the 1930s. Yet Ugg Australia (a company that is neither owned by Australians, nor run by Australians, and which does not make its boots in Australia) was able to copyright the term ‘ugg boot’ and now sues the pants off anyone else who tries to use the term. They invented neither the product, nor the name, yet they ceaselessly profit off a monopoly that they can legally enforce.

    Thank goodness their copyright was struck down in Australia – but in the US you can’t even see internet advertisements for non-Ugg ughs (if that makes sense). Ga’argh!

    1. Ugg Boots and other brand names are trademarked, not copyrighted–the products themselves are copyrighted–but other than that, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  9. have the “48 hour film festival” folks received their c&d letters yet?

    this is another case of big corp being big a-holes for no reason. they feel threatened so they fight back making themselves look bad.

    see the mcdonald’s lawsuit against a teenager (who’s name is McClusky) over her event called McFest.

    1. I’m not an expert on either trademark law or the case you mention, but if I google “mcdonald’s lawsuit against a teenager (who’s name is McClusky) over her event called McFest”, the first hit I get includes the choice fact (or possibly, “fact”):

      ‘McDonalds did not file a lawsuit against McClusky. McDonalds didn’t even try and stop her from calling her concert series the “McFest,” they merely filed an opposition to McClusky’s attempt to secure a trademark registration for “McFest.”’

      Not that big corps aren’t often the bad guy, this wouldn’t seem to be one of those times.

  10. possible new magazine titles:
    The Two Day Rag
    2,880 Minute Magazine
    Periodical Periodical

  11. It was my impression that at least with the titles of specific works, you can’t copyright the title. Apparently magazines and TV shows come under trademark instead of copyright rules, or at least that’s what CBS is trying to assert.

  12. And in related news, Time Magazine has sued Stephen Hawking for the egregious copyright and trademark violations in his “A Brief History of Time.”

    Tell CBS to crawl back into the black rock and wait for the end of networks to come. Won’t be long.

  13. Easy solution: Now that they have some experience doing this rapid-turnaround publishing, and they have all the necessary infrastructure in place, I’m sure they could shave their production deadline down to a single day, rather than two.

    So just call it “24” – that should solve all the trademark issues…

  14. what you really need is a crack team of navy seal legal commandos that can drop in upriver and float into any destination and disrupt any quasi-legal injunction with extreme prejudice that are on call, anywhere, anytime… if you can find them.

  15. @#1: Alas, the movie 48 Hours was released by CBS’ sister company Paramount. I’d have loved to have seen that dispute myself, had it been any other company.

  16. CBS is overreaching, their trademark registration is limited to “TELEVISION SERIES FEATURING NEWS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS” this certainly does not give them a monopoly on the use of the descriptive term “48 Hours” for any other market. The magazine should ignore the C&D letter.

  17. I’ve got it… Doubleday.

    That guy who didn’t invent baseball is dead, so what’s there to worry about?

  18. I’m almost always on the side of David in these fights, but you know, not this time. CBS isn’t going after 48 hour film festivals or Eddie Murphy and the like because there’s a clear distinction between a film festival or a buddy cop movie and a “newsmagazine” format TV show. “LULZ IVE NEVER HEARD OF IT” may score points on these good ol’ tubes, but it’s not a legal defense to be used in court.

    For all the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing and zomg CBS sux0rz, given the similarities in context – both seem to be outlets for one to get news & general human interest stories – they have a claim. Don’t believe me all you like, when I first read about the mag I actually did think it was some print off-shoot of the show.

    The post on their blog, linked to via BB is telling: “We all want proof that it doesn’t take a bunch of money and lawyers to make something great. And you know what? It doesn’t. Well, it turns out we were wrong,” would carry more weight if the legal challenge were aimed more deeply at the core of their product, not its name. This, frankly, could’ve been avoided with a 30-second Google search to see who else might be using the name. CBS News figures prominently damn near the top in querying either “48 Hours” or “48 Hour.”

    All of their energy should be on doing what they do best, really quick magazine publishing. Just change the name for God’s sake, it’s not like they’ve been using it time immemorial.

    #2 has the right idea. How a bunch of journalists hadn’t heard about this show…at all is kind of odd. I have, and I’m a gen Y/millennial (depending on which marketing firm is asked) web developer.

  19. Hersey got themselves in the news today as well.

    “Hershey sues Williams-Sonoma over cake-pan design”

    Apparently they don’t like the idea that a brownie pan might have little rectangles like a Hershey chocolate bar. They also took action against Reese’s Nursery because people might become confused and think a nursery was a candy bar. Then there’s Art Truck that had a Hershey bar looking ad on the side of their truck only instead of chocolate it was a couch. Hershey took action against that too and it was here on Boing Boing if I remember right..

  20. If I remember my copyright law class correctly titles are not copyrightable. If they have a trademark it’s different, but especially since your product is significantly different than theirs, I don’t think they have any ground to stand on.

  21. “…you can’t do anything really large scale in contemporary society without have a legal team and a corporation.”

    It would also appear that someone to proof read their statements might be a good idea.

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