Violet Blue no names Jane

By LaTeigra Cahill
Guest Author

There’s no way to overstate the strong aversion toward mainstream everything in San Francisco. It’s also not a stretch to say that in the age of file sharing disputes, enforcing intellectual property rights can create the impression that an artist has crossed over from being independent to being a “sellout.”

When I heard that Violet Blue, the undeniably hip, fetish model/sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, filed a highly publicized law suit against mainstream porn actress Violet Blue (now known as No Name Jane) alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution, violation of a CA right of publicity statue, and unfair competition, I was intrigued not only by the legal ramifications of a personal name trademark, but also with how Violet Blue’s “indie” reputation would be affected.

Some Facts from the Opinion:

  1. Violet Blue (the writer) first used the pen name in an online article in 1999; No Name Jane first used the name as a stage name in 2000.
  2. No Name Jane has appeared in hundreds of adult films over the years under the name “Violet Blue”.
  3. Violet Blue legally changed her name to Violet Blue, registered her name as a trademark in early 2008, and promptly filed suit.
  4. The Northern District court granted Violet Blue’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ruling that she had a valid, defendable trademark. (However, the court was not convinced Blue would succeed on the merits of her trademark dilution claim because the Federal Trademark Dilution Act requires that her trademark be famous prior to the time No Name Jane began using it.) (Opinion)

So why would a progressive, sex positive writer be so enraged that an adult star used the same name? Was it simply the next part of a ridiculous counter culture vs. mainstream war? If so, wouldn’t a trademark dispute put Violet’s “cool” at risk? On Violet Blue’s blog, she asserted her disgust in seeing her name on porn box covers like “Planet of the Gapes” and “White Trash Whore #22” and reading No Name Jane’s interviews (which, Violet characterized as “small minded” and “ignorant”).

What’s most interesting though is that Violet Blue, whom I have a hard time believing has a ton of celebrity status outside of The Bay Area, truly seemed to believe that No Name Jane was using her name on purpose to capitalize off of her fame as a blogger/writer:

“I mean, look at all the trouble and confusion poor Tyra BanXXX goes through, having her name diluted by some model with a TV show. And Marey Carey — she’s just trying to run for governor and get some new teeth and better tits, and some singer has to come along and ride her coattails to fame.” (Blog Post)

The drama got worse when Boing Boing, a popular tech site with publicly radical views on IP reform, risked a serious censorship issue with their fans when they unpublished all of Blue’s material from their site for undisclosed reasons, stating only that, “Violet behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her.” Many commentators on the post felt the unpublishing had to do with the No Name Jane law suit.

I find it unfortunate that many artists have to make tough decisions between protecting their hard work versus maintaining their ”scene cred” in the face of the public’s negative perception of IP laws – largely caused by overreaching mega corporations. In the end, Violet Blue won her trademark dispute but she gained more critics than fans, and she took far more of a hit to her cred than she bargained for.

LaTeigra (real name, not yet a trademark) is a law student at University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. LaTeigra’s main legal interests are free speech rights, anti-censorship issues, IP, art and politics. LaTeigra is the Co-Chair/Co-Founder of Hastings Advocates for the Arts, a student organization that promotes freedom of self expression through integrating art into law school culture.

5 Responses to Violet Blue no names Jane

  1. Clint says:

    I’ve known of Violet Blue for many years, and have never lived anywhere other than outside D.C. … East Coast.

  2. Venkat says:

    Good points.

    My sense is that the dispute was really over the domain name, and domains name can be more important than people think (and squatting is more of a problem than people think) particularly for people who do a lot on the internet.

    Interestingly, there’s a bit of a gap in domain name law when it comes to personal names – if you have a personal name and you are famous you can get it back under more limited circumstances. I don’t think she satisfied the “famous person” prong of the cybersquatting statute. So she proceeded under trademark rules. This makes it seem like more of a case where someone exaggerated their IP rights.

    I’m not privvy to the backstory and what happened on BB, but in the end I think she got her domain name back, which is what she was looking for.

  3. Mark Kernes says:

    I’ve covered the Violet Blue vs. Violet Blue controversy for more than a year now, and there seems to be ample evidence that Blue the writer (formerly Wendi Sullivan) has not been entirely candid in her filings about the history of her use of the name, which only came to national prominence after Blue the porn star (Ada) was nationally known. Sadly Ada did not, in my view, have adequate legal representation at all stages of this litigation, in part due to a lack of money, and Sullivan took advantage of this. It’s how, for instance, Sullivan was able to trademark “Violet Blue” without Ada becoming aware of it.

    And there’s no doubt in my mind that Venkat is correct: This is largely a battle over the domain name, which had been Ada’s sole source of income for several years after she retired from performing — and now has returned to performing under her new name in part due to having lost her extremely well-known screen name. (Sullivan never owned that domain; it was Ada’s from the beginning.)

    I too feel it’s incredibly disingenuous for Sullivan, who frequently writes about sexual issues, to claim that she is somehow embarrassed that people mistake her for a performer. I suspect, secretly, Sullivan just wishes she were as popular as her predecessor!

  4. Two points:

    1) The evidence seems to be that the “Boing Boing” unpersoning was completely unrelated to the trademark lawsuit. The timeline doesn’t match, and it’s not the sort of thing the Boingers would likely be quiet about.

    2) Reportedly the trademark lawsuit has been settled (ainews.com/story/13983 – not safe for work site)

  5. [...] a comment to an article resetting the entire tale,  Kernes gives the industry’s consensus thought toward the controversy (the original comment [...]

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