If you're feeling charitable, you might describe Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon and Restaurant, with its checkered flags and black-and-yellow stock car out front, as a loving, if unauthorized, homage to the 2006 Will Farrell/John C. Reilly film Talladega Nights. The breastaurant's parent company, strip club conglomerate Rick's Cabaret International, has never pretended otherwise, operating on the legal theory that you can't copyright a proper name.
Otherwise -- if, say, you're a movie studio still milking the film for $3.5 million per year -- you'll probably view the operation as a cynical ploy to cash in on the movie's success without paying licensing fees.
Count Columbia Pictures in the latter camp. Last week, the studio sued Rick's Caberet in federal court alleging that it's illegally profiting off the Talledega Nights brand and demanding that it stop.
Columbia calls the notion that proper names can't be trademarked "erroneous." Because of Talladega Nights' success, the name Ricky Bobby "has become uniquely identified with the Picture when used in association with NASCAR and professional motor sports." Thus, the name is protected by copyright, at least when it's paired with stock cars painted to look nearly identical to Will Ferrell's car from the film; multiple displays featuring "If you ain't first...," which happens to be the first half of Ferrell's catchphrase; and drinks like "Comin' at Ya Like a Spider Monkey," which the lawsuit describes as (an obvious reference to the Texas Ranger character's notable line from the Picture, "Chip, I'm gonna come at you like a Spider Monkey.")
Also, the scantily clad waitresses are called "Smokin' Hotties," which sounds suspiciously similar to RIcky Bobby's "Smokin' Hot Wife."
So, the fact that Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon is a shameless ripoff of Ricky Bobby the Will Ferrell character is pretty well established. The question becomes why it took so long for Columbia to sue.
The lawsuit, which demands that Rick's cut it out and turn over its profits from the restaurant, along with other damages, provides a couple of hints. One, it suggests that Rick's has plans to open additional Ricky Bobby breastaurants. Two, the lawsuit runs to an epic 82 pages, including footnotes (e.g. "As childhood friends, Ricky and Cal developed nicknames for each other, 'Shake and Bake.' They frequently quote this catchphrase in dialogue throughout the Picture, even as adults.") Prose like that doesn't write itself.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.