There is nothing so ridiculous that somebody won't try to copy it.
Robert Burck has reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sandy Kane, accusing her of infringing on his trademark. Because Burck is better known as the "Naked Cowboy," who strolls around Times Square strumming a guitar while wearing only briefs, boots and a cowboy hat, you can imagine what Sandy Kane has been up to. (And having seen a picture of Ms. Kane, I can tell you that you are better off if you do just imagine it.)
Kane is no stranger to being naked, that's for sure. She was described in the New York Post as "a fixture of the city comedy scene and [a] former stripper famous for closing her act by lighting her breasts on fire," which is impressive but does not seem to be part of her Times Square act. For that purpose she wears a bikini and a cowboy hat, strums a guitar, and calls herself the "Naked Cowgirl," so there are obvious similarities to Burck's act, similarities not lost on the Cowboy and his lawyers. "Your use of Naked Cowgirl," said the letter from Naked Cowboy's lawyers, "is essentially identical to the Naked Cowboy and is clearly in violation" of said Cowboy's trademark.
According to the report, Burck demands that Kane either stop infringing on him in Times Square or sign a "Naked Cowboy Franchise Agreement" if she wants to continue performing. The report states that "[m]ost of [Burck's] licensed franchisees are required to pay $5,000 a year or $500 a month and go through a screening process." Wait a minute — most of his franchisees? The idea that there is even one, let alone more than one, is very disturbing. I did not have much luck finding out how many franchisees might be part of the Naked Empire. The Post quoted Burck's manager as saying that there is at least one other Naked Cowgirl, and that she is a licensed franchisee. The Cowboy's manager said his client was willing to negotiate with Kane, but so far she is refusing to play ball.
The Cowboy's intellectual-property clout should not be underestimated. In 2008, he sued Mars, Inc., and its ad agency over a campaign in which M&Ms were shown wearing a somewhat similar outfit. That claim survived a motion to dismiss (although the judge did dismiss his "right to privacy" claim), and the case ultimately settled for an undisclosed sum. I wrote about him again a month or so after that ruling, on the occasion of his being arrested here in San Francisco, of all places, for performing semi-naked in Union Square without a permit. He got fed up and went back to New York, which I think means we win.