Sony Sues Bridgestone Alleging They Ripped off Kevin Butler [Updated]

Published 2 years ago by

Kevin Butler Sony Suing Bridgestone

Appearing in over 80 television shows and films over his 23-year comedic acting career, it’s safe to say that audiences will laugh at Jerry Lambert just about anywhere. Gamers became aware of this axiom when Lambert appeared in 2010 as the incomparable Kevin Butler, Sony’s VP of, well, akin to the marketing slogan he introduced, pretty much everything.

At the same time, though, Lambert continued his acting elsewhere, and was sighted most recently playing the Nintendo Wii in a commercial for Bridgestone Tires and their “Game On” promotion. The commercial, which went viral after its September 4 release, was seen by many as a minor controversy – here was Kevin Butler gushing over Mario Kart Wii – but nothing that couldn’t be resolved with a good sense of humor. Too bad Sony wasn’t laughing.

Compiling court documents and legal filings, users on the NeoGAF forums have uncovered a lawsuit levied by SCEA against Bridgestone Tires and Wildcat Creek, the ad agency who produced commercials for the Game On campaign.

Filing the suit on September 11 (which explains the commercial’s vacancy on the Internet now; Bridgestone pulled the add days later), Sony is suing on the grounds of trademark infringement: Kevin Butler is their intellectual property, and in the company’s eyes Jerry Lambert, playing video games, even in a lab jacket and selling tires, creates an irrefutable connotation of the fictional PlayStation executive.

Kevin Butler Sued Sony Bridgestone

The second filing intimates that on September 26, a lawyer representing Sony called the Northern District Court of California, who’s hearing the case, stating that the parties involved had reached or were close to a resolution. An announcement on whether or not the case continues is due for October 12.

Right now all that publicly exists of the infamous commercial is a few screen grabs, animated GIFs, and an edited, sans-Kevin Butler commercial on Youtube. Bridgestone clearly went to great lengths to whitewash Lambert from the Game On campaign, and the chain of events here suggests they’re eager to settle things outside of court.

It’s also important to note that Sony isn’t suing Lambert directly. At first, the case might read like the company trying to keep a leash on its dynamite spokesperson – perhaps he signed a non-compete clause and playing Mario Kart hit too close to home. But Lambert’s work for Sony is as an actor; he’s their official spokesperson in the same sense he’s their family activities director: fictionally. Their might be a disagreement now over intellectual properties and the doppelganging of Kevin Butler, but we wouldn’t be surprised if, sometime soon, Sony calls their marketing messiah back into action.

Ranters, Sony seems positioned to win their case against Bridgestone and Wildcat Creek, even if it’s settled out of court. But should they have been so concerned in the first place?

[UPDATE] Sony has released a statement to Venture Beat explaining their litigation:

“Sony Computer Entertainment America filed a lawsuit against Bridgestone and Wildcat Creek, Inc. on September 11. The claims are based on violations of the Lanham Act, misappropriation, breach of contract and tortious interference with a contractual relationship. We invested significant resources in bringing the Kevin Butler character to life and he’s become an iconic personality directly associated with PlayStation products over the years. Use of the Kevin Butler character to sell products other than those from PlayStation misappropriates Sony’s intellectual property, creates confusion in the market, and causes damage to Sony.”

Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.

Source: NeoGAF

TAGS: Sony

  • John

    ….Who cares?

    • MisterEd

      Apparently Sony cared. And this is a bad move by their part.

      I mean all these years Sony has been denying that the Wii was a competitor (Kaz Hirai himself said it once, google it), and yet with this lawsuit Sony confirms once and for all, that the Wii was and IS a competitor.

      I know that the SixAxis and the Move were both proof enough that the Wii was a competitor that they couldn’t ignore, but this lawsuit just makes it official.

      And none of that would’ve happened without this lawsuit. Without this lawsuit, no one would’ve noticed that ‘kevin Butler’ was playing or promoting the Wii. But thanks to Sony, now the entire planet knows.

  • SuperTrainStationH

    Except Bridgestone didn’t “rip off” Kevin Butler, a trademarked character created by Sony. They hired an actor named Jerry Lambert who’s just trying to keep his bills paid by doing what he does, act in commercial advertisements and print work.

    Sony are pretty much arguing that their ownership of the fictional Kevin Butler character literally extends to them owning the image and likeness of Jerry Lambert himself, which is beyond reason.

    Sony MAY have a case in terms of how their contract with Lambert was worded and the scope of what it specified, but their argument that Bridgestone is misappropriating the character of Kevin Butler to sell their products holds no water.

    Incidentally, Charles Martinet, the actor who’s voiced Mario and most of the male characters in the Super Mario universe since the mid 90’s, has actually appeared in internal industrial materials produced for Microsoft.

    • Brian Sipple

      You make an excellent point.

      I think the tipping point, however, might have been the image and likeness of Jerry Lambert… in the context of playing video games. Sony seems to think that constitutes the character of Kevin Butler, and Bridgestone’s efforts to edit Lambert out of the Game On marketing campaign might be telling about who has the better case in court.

      • SuperTrainStationH

        At the time Bridgestone pulled the original commercial, it struck more as them protecting the integrity of THEIR OWN campaign than them trying to avoid legal action from Sony.

        The reality is, a promotion in which someone who’s in the market for four tires can get a free Wii as an incentive most likely won’t be targeted at attracting customers who care about video games enough to be familiar with the Kevin Butler PlayStation commercials, and therefore wouldn’t find the irony of Lambert indirectly “promoting” Wii as being something memorable which would shape their perception of the commercial, or the promotional incentive.

        Instead, Bridgestone saw their commercial becoming a curiosity and gaining publicity for reasons that actually DISTRACTED from their campaign offer, because Bridgestone’s own commercial was now being circulated in the context of irony regarding an actor’s coincidental connection to a completely unrelated product.

        In the context of the original commercial, it seems clear that Bridgestone wasn’t trying to leverage Lambert’s coincidental prior work for Sony to make any unique or lasting impression on the audience for the purpose of promoting their own products.

        I think the best thing Bridgestone has going for them is that the message and intent of the commercial remains unchanged with the omission of Lambert.

        If Lambert had been leveraged in such a way that his earlier role as Kevin Butler was specifically referenced or alluded to as to characterize the commercial as a take-off or replication of the Kevin Butler ads, Bridgestone would be in serious trouble, but I don’t think a judge will see it that way.

        I expect it will ultimately come down to the language contained within Lambert’s own contract with Sony.

        Sony is seriously distracting from the strongest point of their own case by releasing a statement essentially claiming to own Lambert’s image as part of the Kevin Butler IP.

    • Tratz

      Now wait a minute, Sony might indeed have grounds for complaint here. You don’t think Bridgestone hired Jerry Lambert BECAUSE of his association with Sony? If you think that’s just coincidence then you’re seriously kidding yourself. To make the argument that the voice of Mario and Kevin Butler’s visual recognition are equivalent comparisons is utterly ludicrous. Charles Martinet as a voice actor isn’t doing a Mario knock-off for Microsoft, for one thing. There was a deliberate attempt on Bridgestone’s part to capitalize on Jerry Lambert’s recognition and his association with gaming. To say anything to the contrary is simply out of hate for Sony and all they stand for.

      Sony has a legitimate argument and Bridgestone knows it. Which is why they’re settling out of court.

      • MisterEd

        “You don’t think Bridgestone hired Jerry Lambert BECAUSE of his association with Sony?”

        Pffft… Nice try kid. But put that tin-foil hat away. There is no hidden conspiracy here.

        Look, Jerry Lambert was featured in a previous advert for this company. None of which involved the Wii or any videogame console/game.

        Furthermore, Bridgestone hired Lambert’s ad agency to do the commercials for them. Lambert is a big shot in that agency. He’s the president of it.

  • Dovahkiin

    The update makes this make much more sense, when i saw the actor in the comercails, i saw kevin butler. Am i alone in this?

    • Tratz

      Nope. I had the same reaction. As a matter of fact, I would have been surprised if Sony hadn’t filed a complaint. I think they have legitimate grounds for action here.

  • COREY_1993

    phew… hes not in PlayStation all stars. thank god.

    • Matt

      He might be a DLC character.

      • COREY_1993

        no, he wont.

        • Matt

          I think it’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Why do you say with confidence that he won’t?

  • David

    OH MY GOD!!! People!!! Who the hell cares???

  • bio

    So if a director decides to put Jerry Lambert in a movie because he is funny. Is Sony going to sue that Director as well? Sony… You are being really stupid here. Michael Cera is always doing the same thing over and over again. Why is the studio behind Juno not suing other movie studios?

    • JT

      Exactly what I was thinking. This is stupid.

    • Tratz

      Seriously folks, if you think Bridgestone didn’t hire Jerry Lambert precisely because of his association with Sony, then you’re either blind, naive, or just plain dumb. Possibly all three. Bridgestone knew exactly what they were doing when they made that commercial.

      Sony has a legitimate argument here people!

    • lifer

      only if he plays video games in the movie

  • UnbuildTheGame

    This is hardly video game industry news. It has to do with Sony, but ultimately, this is just a (pointless) court case between a popular electronic company and a tire company.

    • Rob Keyes

      It’s Sony’s PlayStation mascot, how is it not video game news?

      • UnbuildTheGame

        Look around at the comments, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Also, It’s Sony suing Bridgestone, and no matter how the court case closes, it will have little-to-no effect on anyone reading this article. Yes, it’s important, but it’s not relevant to what people are looking for on GR, as you can see by the “who cares?” comments that litter this thread.

        • Tratz

          Holy Hell, then don’t read the article! No one’s making you, so why do you care? Move on.

  • dan

    “Halo 4 spartan ops revolutionizing the video game industry” interview was deleted, and this pointlessness is still up? What the hell gamerant?

  • Jak Frost

    Man who friggen cares

    • Tratz

      You cared enough to post a comment didn’t you?

  • BlueHulk

    For all the people saying bridgestone hired Jerry Lambert just for this commercial is stupid because he has been in bridgestone commericals way be for this one. Bridgestone didn’t say hey we should hire this guy for a video game commerical we have no idea about yet but might have in the future. also Jerry must have thought he wasn’t doing anything wrong cause if he did then he wouldn’t have done the commercial.

  • Ken J

    This is pretty retarded. So the character Kevin Butler is the only character that plays video games? Come on, seriously, what do they have that shows he’s doing or saying something UNIQUE to that character??? So now if he ever acts in any movies, tv shows, plays, or anything and at any time he picks up a controller to a game system they will sue that production company??? Give me a break, more pointless lawsuits. It’s sad that we live in the “let’s everyone sue everyone” generation…

  • Red

    The dumbest part of this is that Sony hasn’t used the Kevin Butler character since the “Long Live Play” campaign last year. I’ve been waitig for a new KB commercial for MONTHS, but nothing. If Sony is not using KB anymore, then Jerry is free to go on to other work. If you want Jerry to keep being KB, then USE KB IN SOME ADVERTISING!