“The Oprah Effect”: Harpo Sues Oprahdemics Podcast for Using Her Famous Name Without a License

Oprah Winfrey is so famous that she’s on a first-name basis with people across the globe — and many people recognize her brand by just the first letter.

Harpo Inc., which owns her trademarks, carefully vets any licensing opportunity. Now it’s taking a podcasting duo to court over what it says is an unauthorized attempt to capitalize on “The Oprah Effect.” Harpo Inc. is suing Kellie Carter Jackson and Leah Wright Rigueur over their Oprahdemics podcast.

Roulette Productions launched Oprahdemics in March and ended its first season with a live show at the Tribeca Film Festival in June. Its key art, which is embedded below, includes a dictionary-style definition of the term — defined as “the study of the Queen of Talk” — as well as a large O and the outstretched arms of a woman. The defendants also operate oprahdemics.com and multiple social media sites.

Winfrey’s company alleges that the Oprahdemics moniker misleads consumers into thinking she is involved, dilutes the power of her brand and will cause irreparable harm to Harpo’s goodwill and reputation.

“Her fame is so extensive that she is instantly recognized by her first name Oprah alone,” writes attorney Tamara Carmichael of Dorsey & Whitney in the complaint, which was filed Tuesday in New York federal court. The suit for trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition and cybersquatting includes a history of her brand, beginning with the premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986. It also includes a list of nearly two dozen registered trademarks — two of which are just the letter “O” in a specific font.

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Winfrey’s attorneys make clear they don’t want to shut down the podcast and this isn’t about money.

“Harpo does not seek monetary damages or profits available under applicable law from Defendants’ wrongful acts of building a media and entertainment brand by capitalizing on the goodwill of the OPRAH and O family of trademarks. Nor does Harpo seek to prohibit Defendants from airing a podcast series on their chosen topic,” writes Carmichael in the complaint, which is embedded below. “However, Harpo submits that the Court should enjoin Defendants from wrongfully creating a new brand incorporating Harpo’s trademarks and making trademark use which is dilutive of and constitutes misuse of Harpo’s OPRAH and O family of trademarks and explicitly misleads consumers as to the source and/or sponsorship of Defendants’ branded offerings.”

Jody Avirgan of Roulette Productions on Wednesday sent The Hollywood Reporter this statement in response to the complaint: “‘Oprahdemics’ is a journalistic exploration by history professors and sincere, longtime fans of Oprah Winfrey. As independent producers, we feel it’s important to have fun, approachable, and educational conversations about the cultural impact of Ms. Winfrey. This comes from a place of both deep admiration and critical thinking. Kellie and Leah are remarkable hosts. Roulette Productions produces ‘Oprahdemics’ and has been engaged with the team at Harpo for some time–while genuinely surprised by this, we hope to resolve it.”

Aug. 10, 10:50 a.m.: Updated with a statement from Roulette Productions.

Harpo v Jackson by THROnline on Scribd