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 big horn 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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