Even at age 80, Buzz Aldrin is one busy guy. More than 41 years after gaining worldwide fame as one of the first Americans to set foot on the moon, Aldrin’s schedule is full of public appearances. He even made it to Dancing With the Stars earlier this year. Now, he’s got his attorneys in court with Topps over the company’s use of his name and photograph in its 2009 “American Heroes” set, produced under the American Heritage brand.
Aldrin and his licensing arm, StarBuzz LLC, filed suit in a Los Angeles federal courtroom this week, claiming Topps unjustly profited from his inclusion in the set. Court papers obtained by Sports Collectors Daily show Aldrin is seeking a cash award and a court order prohibiting Topps from marketing the cards any more than they already have.
The brand includes pictures of sports, entertainment, history and pop culture figures. The well-known picture of Aldrin on the moon during Apollo 11, his visor reflecting the image of fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, was used in Topps’ packaging of American Heroes. The product also includes a cut signature card of Aldrin and a Project Gemini card that doesn’t include a photo but does use Aldrin’s name.
Aldrin’s attorneys say they attempted to negotiate a licensing fee once the cards were on the market but were unable to reach a settlement and Aldrin then decided to proceed with the lawsuit.
Topps claims the use of Aldrin’s likeness and name is protected by the First Amendment which includes factual descriptions of events. In an exchange of letters between attorneys for both sides last April, Michael Kahn representing Topps wrote that the set was the “equivalent of an American history textbook” and that “historical events remain newsworthy for decades”.
Lawyers for Aldrin say the cards aren’t considered educational products under California law. “The marketability and economic value of the trading card set is derived primarily from the fame of various persons such as Dr. Aldrin and not from any transforative element to his name or likeness,” wrote Robert C. O’Brien.
Aldrin’s representatives say Topps’ use “directly threatens Dr. Aldrin’s market for memorabilia”. In another letter, they point to several different instances in which the same iconic image was used without permission and courts ruled in Aldrin’s favor to the tune of over $750,000. Some of those products included everything from Action Products’ ‘Space Voyager Moon Rocks’ to liquor to freeze dried strawberries.
The suit seems to boil down to a difference of opinion with regard to the law.
“Topps included Dr. Aldrin within the ‘American Heroes’ edition because it believes he is an American hero and is thus proud to be able to share such information with its audience,” Kahn wrote.