‘Real estate superhero’ hit with copyright warning from DC Comics

The comic book giant claimed proprietary rights over the term deriving from as far back as the origin of Superman

An estate agent in Vancouver has fallen foul of copyright laws after being served with a copyright warning from DC Comics. Ian Brett, in a personal advertising ploy, dubbed himself ‘Captain Vancouver’ on his website. The marketing stunt was in response to what he says are sketchy practices in the local real estate market and that he needed to stand up and be ‘a Real Estate Superhero’.

Brett had actually trademarked the name ‘Captain Vancouver’ in 2013 and his advertised personality features a powdered wig, tricorne hat and breeches. What DC Comics is specifically objecting to is the use of the word Superhero and the bright red and yellow “R” logo emblazoned across his T-shirt. Brett may have avoided any threat altogether if he hadn’t tried to take out a trademark for the phrase ‘Real Estate Superhero’ which then alerted the IP lawyers.

DC Comics, famous for the Batman and Superman characters, has held the copyright for Superman and his attire for more than 70 years, and co-owns the terms ‘Super Heroes’ and ‘Super Hero’. The copyright notice sent to Brett warned him that they would initiate legal proceedings if Brett didn’t withdraw his application to trademark the phrase ‘real estate superhero’, refrain from doing anything similar in the future, and immediately cease using the word superhero and the similar insignia which resembles the famous Superman logo.

Brett duly agreed to the demands, sent from the IP specialising Toronto law firm Bereskin & Parr, and has said he will change the shape of his logo to resemble a house instead.  Brett viewed the whole affair in good spirits and remarked that nobody wants a lawsuit, and that “I’m not a man of steel, I’m just a man of sales.”

This episode illustrates the keen approach to IP enforcement taken by some businesses- presumably to minimise any risk of brand dilution. However, others seeking to take enforcement action against smaller businesses would do well to consider the wider implications of doing so, including the risk of reputational damage if such actions seem too heavy-handed. Remember, with great power comes great (brand) responsibility.