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AMC Sued for Portrayal of Liberty Tax in ‘Better Call Saul’

Aug. 2, 2022, 2:10 PM

Liberty Tax Service is seeking to stop AMC Networks Inc. from distributing a recent episode of the legal drama “Better Call Saul” because it allegedly misuses the tax preparation company’s trademarks, a New York federal lawsuit said.

Liberty Tax, whose corporate name is JTH Tax LLC, claimed in the Monday complaint that the show portrays a business called “Sweet Liberty Tax Service” in Episode 2 of Season 6, run by a convicted felon who fraudulently steals customer refunds.

That episode of “Better Call Saul"—a spin-off of AMC’s critically acclaimed TV series “Breaking Bad"—uses “an obvious imitation of an actual Liberty Tax location, but twisted to paint Liberty Tax in a negative and disparaging light,” the complaint said

Liberty Tax said AMC used its registered trademarks without authorization, including its name, along with a Statue of Liberty logo and inflatable sculpture, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The show’s depiction of an illegitimate tax service that uses Liberty Tax’s trademarks has damaged the real-life company’s reputation and good will, the complaint said. The episode was seen by 1.4 million viewers when it first aired on April 18, Liberty Tax said.

Liberty Tax said it sent a cease-and-desist letter to AMC on April 27.

The Second Circuit’s 1989 decision in Rogers v. Grimaldi and subsequent decisions established that third-party trademarks can be used in film and other art works as long as it’s artistically relevant and doesn’t explicitly mislead consumers. In that case, the court found that actress Ginger Rogers couldn’t sue the makers of the film “Ginger and Fred” for trademark infringement.

Causes of Action: Federal trademark infringement, federal trade dress infringement, trademark and trade dress dilution, defamation, disparagement, injurious falsehoods.

Relief: Permanent injunction, damages, accounting of profits, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: AMC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP represent Liberty Tax.

The case is JTH Tax LLC v. AMC Networks Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:22-cv-06526, 8/1/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Isaiah Poritz in Washington at iporitz@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adam M. Taylor at ataylor@bloombergindustry.com