Boul­der’s “Wild Amer­ica” cre­ator sues Na­tional Geo­graphic over shows

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Kirk Mitchell

A Boul­der wildlife tele­vi­sion icon who cre­ated the long-run­ning and highly suc­cess­ful “Wild Amer­ica” show filed a law­suit claim­ing that sev­eral of Na­tional Geo­graphic’s wildlife TV pro­grams mimic his shows so closely that it crosses a le­gal bound­ary and amounts to copy­right in­fringe­ment.

Marty Stouf­fer filed a civil law­suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Den­ver against Na­tional Geo­graphic Part­ners (NGP)and five af­fil­i­ated en­ti­ties in­clud­ing NGC Net­work In­ter­na­tional on Wed­nes­day claim­ing the de­fen­dants copied his pro­grams in such a way that it amounts to un­fair and il­le­gal com­pe­ti­tion.

Stouf­fer is seek­ing an un­spec­i­fied mone­tary award in­clud­ing triple dam­ages, ac­cord­ing to Den­ver at­tor­neys Jef­frey Souther­land and Alan Felts and Greens­boro, N.C., at­tor­ney Tug­gle Dug­gins.

Phone and email mes­sages to NGP seek­ing com­ment on Thurs­day were not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

“Wild Amer­ica” is the most broad­cast TV show in Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice his­tory and the most suc­cess­ful na­ture and wildlife doc­u­men­tary tele­vi­sion se­ries ever pro­duced, the law­suit said.

Na­tional Geo­graphic, with head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., copied many of “Wild Amer­ica’s” pro­grams over the years, in­clud­ing the 1972 doc­u­men­tary “Bighorn!” and the 1977 prime-time net­work spe­cial, “The Preda­tors,” nar­rated by ac­tor Robert Red­ford, the law­suit said. “The Preda­tors” had a view­ing au­di­ence of 26 mil­lion.

In 1980, brothers Mark and Marty Stouf­fer cre­ated the half-hour doc­u­men­tary tele­vi­sion se­ries called “Wild Amer­ica,” which ex­plored North Amer­i­can wildlife. They reg­is­tered the Wild Amer­ica mark with the U.S. Patent and Trade­mark Of­fice in 1982, the law­suit said. “Wild Amer­ica” pro­duced 132 TV shows and a 1997 movie called “Wild Amer­ica.”

Ini­tially, Na­tional Geo­graphic hired Mark Stouf­fer in 1995 to pro­duce a half dozen net­work spe­cials. He con­tin­ued to work for the com­pany un­til 2002. In 2010, Na­tional Geo­graphic launched the Nat Geo WILD chan­nel. In 2010 and 2011, NGP and the Stouf­fers dis­cussed en­ter­ing a li­cens­ing or pur­chas­ing agree­ment, the law­suit said.

No agree­ment was reached.

A Na­tional Geo­graphic ex­ec­u­tive emailed the Stouf­fers seek­ing per­mis­sion to ti­tle a minis­eries, “Wild Amer­i­cas,” or “Wildest Amer­i­cas.” The Stouf­fers de­clined, say­ing the names were too close to their trade­marked “Wild Amer­ica,” the law­suit said.

In 2012, Na­tional Geo­graphic re­leased a doc­u­men­tary called “Un­tamed Amer­i­cas,” in the United States, it said. Out­side the U.S., the same se­ries is mar­keted as “Wild Amer­ica.”

“The pack­ag­ing for the se­ries is nearly in­dis­tin­guish­able from MSP’s ‘Wild Amer­ica,’ ” the law­suit said.

In 2013, Na­tional Geo­graphic re­leased a new tele­vi­sion se­ries ti­tled “Amer­ica the Wild.”

“‘Amer­ica the Wild’ bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to ‘Wild Amer­ica,’ repli­cat­ing the most minute de­tails of ‘Wild Amer­ica’ in its pro­duc­tion,” the law­suit said.

For ex­am­ple, “Amer­ica the Wild” host Casey An­der­son mim­ics in­ter­ac­tions be­tween him­self and a bear in the same way Marty Stouf­fer and a griz­zly bear he raised from a cub had done many years ear­lier. Na­tional Geo­graphic also copied the iconic “Wild Amer­ica” im­age of two bighorn sheep head-butting one an­other in slow mo­tion, the law­suit said.

“The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween ‘Amer­ica the Wild’ and ‘Wild Amer­ica’ are wide-rang­ing, in­clud­ing an un­canny sim­i­lar­ity be­tween each show’s host,” the law­suit said.

Na­tional Geo­graphic also has launched sim­i­lar prod­ucts called “Sur­viv­ing Wild Amer­ica” fea­tur­ing two Aus­tralian hosts ex­plor­ing the Oke­feno­kee Swamp in 2014 and in March a doc­u­men­tary se­ries called “Amer­ica’s Wild Fron­tier.”

The Stouf­fers in­vested more than $24.5 mil­lion in ad­ver­tis­ing and build­ing the name of “Wild Amer­ica” over a span of 30 years and it has been seen by bil­lions of peo­ple. Now Na­tional Geo­graphic is il­le­gally cap­i­tal­iz­ing on their good will, the law­suit said.

“As a re­sult of the Na­tional Geo­graphic de­fen­dants’ ac­tions, con­sumers have been wrongly di­verted away from MSP’s ‘Wild Amer­ica’ in a va­ri­ety of mar­ket­ing out­lets,” the law­suit said.

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