Is the Jeeves character legally protected?

Some of the Jeeves and Wooster stories are public domain, and Jeeves remains the archetypal butler name (even though he was technically a valet).

Does the website “Ask Jeeves” have to pay Wodehouse’s estate for use of that name for their website’s name? It’s clear he’s *the *Jeeves - the character’s a butler. If a story is public domain, can the character still be ‘trademarked’ (is that even the right legal protection a character gets?)?

Did the BBC have to pay Wodehouse’s estate to make Jeeves and Wooster?

I know there’s at least one Mickey Mouse cartoon in public domain, and pretty clearly you can’t go around making your own Mickey Mouse stories/cartoons/watches, so I’d guess a character could be protected while some stuff the character appeared in was public domain.

If Jeeves himself is public domain, could Wodehouse’s estate get him trademarked *now *? That is, once trademark expires, can it be raised from the dead(I’m not clear on, for instance, It’s a Wonderful Life - which would be copyright, not trademark, bit it used to be public domain; now it’s not)?

I guess I’m curious because Jeeves strikes me as a very valuable trademark - he’s so famous people are aware a butler is named Jeeves if they haven’t even heard of the stories.

Don’t confuse trademark with copyright. Even if all the Mickey Mouse cartoons go into public domain the character Mickey Mouse would remain a trademark.

If a company doesn’t protect it’s trademark it can fall into public domain. For instance, aspirin in the USA was at one time a trademark.

This is why you see ads by Xerox that say “You can’t xerox a Xerox.”

Kleenex has also come close to losing it’s trademark, but as long as the company can show it it trying to fight off use of trademark by people, it can keep it.

This is why Disney fights hard against everyone, so it’s perfectly clear to all they are protecting their trademarks.

But it can get complicated. For instance, Snow White is a fairy tale. That is not subject to copyright or trademark but Disney’s VERSION of Snow White is. For instance, in the original fairy tale the dwarves aren’t named. So you could use Snow White and the dwarves but you couldn’t take images from the Disney film nor could you use the names Disney gave the dwarves.

But you could draw your own dwarves and name them anything you want (The Simpsons did this in a parody)

I would be virtually certain the Jeeves of “Ask Jeeves” is trademarked. But the name isn’t trademarked. You can’t copyright or trademark a name.

For instance you could have a butler named Jeeves that does something else than spider the Internet.

Aspirin is not a trademark in the US as part of war reparations for world war 1. Thermos is a better example of a trademark that was lost because it became a common word.

I have corresponded with on something very similar. See’s page here.

When still used the Jeeves character, I always though he resembled the butler Cadbury from the Richie Rich comic books.

And by the way, I found that there is a dry cleaners in London called Jeeves that claims trademark on the name. Presumably since the search engine and the dry cleaner are in very different businesses, they could both claim the name?

Yes. Remember that trademark laws are meant as consumer protection, not to defend intellectual property as do copyright and patent laws, so if there is no potential for confusion two or more businesses can use the same mark.

Apple computers and Apple records coexisted just fine for decades until iTunes, because Apple computers didn’t sell music and Apple records didn’t sell computers. Once iTunes got started, though, Apple records sued Apple computers and got a settlement out of the deal. Apparently, the judge didn’t think there was any reason to force a name change on either of them. There’s also the Sysco restaurant supply company and the Cisco database company which coexist just fine because they don’t step on each others’ toes. Finally, Coca-Cola can trademark the color red only in relationship to soft drinks; it does not own redness in general any more than Apple computers owns the word ‘apple’ in general.

IIRC, the trademark rule is “as long as they are not confused”. So Apple records and Apple computers settled amicably until Apple (the computers) entered the music business, then discussions were reopened. You can have Acme cleaners and Acme ditchdiggers and nobody’s going to confuse them. But if you call yourslef “Coke Cleaners” or “Disney Cleaners” those names are so pervasive you better have a really good reason for the name.

IIRC Virgin Cola had to redesign their red-cans-with-white-stripe after “discussions with lawyers” because some other cola company thought the design looked too much like theirs.

Disney also copyrights the fact there are 7 dwarfs.

So as long as the dry cleaners don’t go into the internet search business - no problem.

I imagine the BBC got the rights from Wodehouse before the copyright expired.

If you write a story that looks like a thinly disguised Jeeves knock-off, I imagine the BBC couls still come after you if it’s too much like theirs.

There is something similar to trademarks called trade dress, which, like trademarks, is intended as a consumer protection measure but is restricted to protecting the distinctive look of a product (container design, coloration, and so on). Marketing a cola in a red-and-white can would certainly fall foul of the trade dress protections Coca-Cola has invested in its red-and-white cans.

However, certain terms cannot be legally protected because they are considered descriptive. For example, ‘cola’ is a descriptive term when applied to soft drinks: Anyone can make a cola and sell it as a cola without having to worry about Coca-Cola or RC Cola or Pepsi-Cola taking a dump on their head. (This actually came about when Coca-Cola lost a lawsuit back yonks and yonks ago.) Another example is ‘facial tissues’, which is the risk-free way to market what everyone else in the world calls ‘kleenexes.’

There are a few things here.

Some of Wodehouse’s work seems to be in the public domain in the US, but it isn’t in the UK (and other countries, I assume). Under UK and EU law, as I understand it, it will still be protected by copyright until the end of 2045.

The BBC certainly paid for the right to adapt Wodehouse’s stories for television: in fact, they paid Wodehouse himself, since he was still alive a the time. The more recent series of Jeeves and Wooster, with Steven Fry and Hugh Laurie, was made by Granada Television for ITV, and they would have paid Wodehouse’s estate.

In both cases, all they’ve acquired is the right to make an adaptation of the stories – they don’t have the rights to the stories themselves. Those continue to belong to Wodehouse’s estate, and it would be his estate that had a quarrel with anyone infringing their copyright.