Manos: The Legal Defense of Fate
"Manos", a low budget horror movie made by locals in El Paso, Texas, was called by Entertainment Weekly the “worst film ever made”. While that claim has always been debatable, there can be no doubt that this tale of a Texan family on a road trip running afoul of a polygamous death cult in the desert has provided a great deal of fertile ground for humor and creative inspiration ever since its release.
The successful registration of this trademark would threaten the numerous incarnations of "Manos: The Hands of Fate" past and present- particularly the creative works that have come from the movie being in the public domain- with legal liability for trademark infringement.
Not only will the release of the film itself in any form become vulnerable, but projects such as the independent sequel "Manos Returns" the puppet adaptation "Manos: The Hands of Felt", two coloring books, a video game, a memoir, "Growing up With Manos: The Hands Of Fate", two fiction books, multiple stage productions, and a number of creative fan projects, are now in danger.
Joe Warren has attempted, without success, to extract financial payment from numerous parties in the past incorrectly claiming “copyright infringement” on this public domain work. There is no reason to think that he will not continue the same activities if granted a trademark, however questionable it may be. We’ve seen Joe deploy these tactics against the numerous creative uses of the film since its release, and even against the restoration and preservation of the film itself.
This trademark was recently approved for publication. Due to Mr. Warren filing an Intent to Use 1(b) Trademark Application (in other words, he has not shown any use of the mark yet), the typical scrutiny given to a 1(a) Trademark Application (one that shows actual use of the mark in commerce) for a Title of a Single Work is not present. However, the window for an outside party to challenge the mark does not change, and there is no further opportunity for opposition from outside parties after this initial publication period.
An initial Letter of Protest will be filed shortly with the US Patent and Trademark Office- however, due to USPTO rules, it will be necessary to gain an extension to file the Notice of Opposition once the mark is published for opposition at the end of February. We hope the Letter of Protest will be enough to prevent registration, but there is no guarantee that it will be granted and the scope of issues allowed to be addressed by the Letter of Protest are limited. Filing a Notice of Opposition is extremely costly. The total cost of Attorney Fees for the Notice of Opposition, the extension, and all filing fees is estimated to be around $7,000. Additional funds will further help us offset the costs involved.
Simply put, we have one brief chance to fix this problem, and we will need your support in this battle if we want to see it through. Jackey Neyman Jones (child star of the film and daughter of lead actor Tom Neyman) and Benjamin Solovey (producer of the "Manos: The Hands of Fate" restoration) have established a legal fund to cover the filing fees and attorney’s costs to protect the right to access for all. This case will be handled by Ian K. Friedman, Esq., an Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law Attorney who has come to the defense of the film’s public domain status in the past. If you have enjoyed any of the free and legal uses of “Manos: The Hands of Fate” over the years, we hope you’ll help us to protect past, present and future access to the film and title by contributing to it.
Please help spread the word and #KeepManosFree.
The Music Box Theater in Chicago screened the restoration of the original “Manos” on its 50th Anniversary and asked Jackey to attend. The son of Bob Guidry, the original Director of Photography, showed up, along with original soundtrack vocalist Nicki Mathis, for a meet and greet and a Q&A after the show.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, in preparation for their newest season, held their annual Turkey Day festivities online in November, during which “Manos” was declared the “All Time Fan Favorite” episode. When a collection of classic MST3K episodes appeared again on Netflix two weeks ago, ‘Manos’ was first in the listing.
Jackey Neyman Jones, her ‘Manos Returns’ director Tonjia Atomic, and costar Nuria Aguilar were honored to attend the “Bring Back Mystery Science Theater!” premiere party and screening for the first new episode that we'll see in April. There, they met MST3K Creator Joel Hodgson, as well as stars of the new show including Baron Vaughn and Jonah Ray.
All of this, of course, was before the current threat against the longstanding freedom of use that allowed “Manos” to have a life beyond its footnote in El Paso history. Free access to creative works in the Public Domain can enrich us all in ways that we might not expect. It can bring one’s family history alive, as it does for Jackey, it can allow a famously low budget show to explore new dimensions of strangeness, and can even bring new groups of people together over a shared love of what that work represents and their desire to keep it alive.
Our Go Fund Me campaign is more than halfway to the goal, but time is of the essence. Please donate and share. Any donation over $5 gets you a special token of our esteem: a download of Manos Returns team’s remake of a favorite song from the Manos soundtrack. “Baby Do a Thing With Me” .
After a lot of suspense, we have gotten mixed news. Our letter of protest was received and accepted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but no action was taken by the examining attorney. Joe Warren’s unwarranted trademark of “Manos: the Hands of Fate” is scheduled to be published April 11. We knew this was a possibility, and we know what we have to do now… but with only 30 days to take action after publishing, time is of the essence.
We’re happy to announce a new reward for every person who donates, or has already donated, at least $5 to our legal fund to #KeepManosFree: a digital download of the cover of “Baby Do a Thing (with Me)” from the upcoming Manos sequel “Manos Returns.” Covered by Seattle musicians Allie LaRoe [foxandphoenixrecords.com] and Rachel Jackson [voxfabuli.com], we want to share this song with you as a token of our appreciation.
“I want to thank every person who identifies with our desire to keep Manos: The Hands of Fate free to inspire,” says Jackey. “Before its television debut in 1993, it was just another low budget film that fell into obscurity. Only because the film was in the Public Domain did it have an opportunity to be rediscovered by exactly the right venue. It’s difficult to imagine any other vehicle than MST3K would have so effectively defined what we feel towards 'Manos'.”
CURRENT SITUATION (LONG VERSION):
On February 2, 2017 we took our first step in keeping “Manos” free from a trademark on the title by filing a Letter of Protest. The Letter of Protest was accepted by the USPTO on March 6, 2017 and forwarded on to the Examining Attorney. The Examining Attorney, however, did not take any action. This was not entirely unexpected: after talking with the USPTO, we were informed that this was the only Letter of Protest citing "Title of a Single Creative Work" in recent memory, making the situation very novel to them.
The 1b “Intent to Use” filing receives a lot of deference against a simple “Title of a Single Creative Work” due to the fact that the applicant (Joe Warren) has still not demonstrated any use of the trademark in commerce- only a declared intent to use. In theory, Mr. Warren could still submit a Statement of Use to cover newer and entirely different projects using the mark. Until this does or does not happen, Mr. Warren’s application gets the benefit of the doubt regarding its legitimacy.
This means that we now have to wait to challenge it during the publication period. While there would be a review by an Examining Attorney after a Statement of Use is filed, we are not allowed to object during that time. The only option, then, is a far more expensive and time consuming filing to intervene and cancel the trademark.
As of March 6, 2017, the trademark has been approved for publication on April 11th. From that point on there is a 30 day window to either file an opposition or an extension for such an opposition.
WHAT’S AT STAKE:
We’ve seen how, over the past five years, Joe Warren has repeatedly attempted to exert control over and extract money from any use of “Manos: The Hands of Fate”, a film in the public domain since its release in 1966. To do this, he has not relied on any real evidence to support his claim of ownership, but rather the fear of litigation and confusion over how copyright and trademark law function. Instead of using the free access to “Manos” that we all share to create and market his own work, Mr. Warren has retroactively attempted to seize control of and profit from other people’s work using every tactic he can think of.
From Joe’s past behavior, one can glean that he would prefer to shut down smaller entities (such as fan projects) that cannot profit him. Larger, more popular uses of the film can exist, but only if they deal with him directly and he is paid tidy sums of money. No mention is ever made of Harold P. Warren’s other children or any of the original film’s surviving performers or investors being involved in his scheme. Joe has also made the interesting claim that people “leeching onto Manos” have scared “big investors” away from “amazing projects” relating to the property.
Any official document granting him a trademark to the film’s title, regardless of any conditions or restrictions attached, would embolden Mr. Warren far more than before. We saw a precedent for this after one company made the choice to work with him. Though we can only speculate about the terms of their agreement, and though it could have been cheaper for them to meet his demands than rebuff them in court, this move put everyone else using the film into a vulnerable position by establishing such a precedent. Ever since, Joe has been able to point to this example to support his outrageous claims to own the film, its title, and even the names and likenesses of its characters. The simple act of crediting Joe and his “Harold P. Warren Trust”, which did not exist before 2013, gives his actions an unwarranted veneer of legitimacy.
Should this trademark go through- even if it could not hold up in a court of law- it poses a very big threat. The most likely outcome: instead of dealing with the legal headache of a 2017 trademark bearing the name of a fifty year old film and an increasingly demanding son of its director, people who had wanted to utilize the film will simply stay away. The many legitimate and creative uses of “Manos” that we have been accustomed to seeing will disappear. In a worst case scenario, the film could be "lost" a second time through lack of access.
We have a chance to keep the film free for all to use, and we intend to take it… but it can only be done with some immediate, enthusiastic help.
Our first order of business is to file an extension for a Trademark Opposition, which will give us the time we need to craft a solid case. We only get one shot at this, so it’s important to do it right.
We’ll raise our GoFundMe total a bit to account for the extended amount of time we need to employ our attorney, as well as the proportional rise in payment processing fees. As of this update, we need $4627 more to reach our $8000 goal.
$1500 - Letter of Protest Fees (already covered from GoFundMe donations. Thank you!)
$1200 - Attorney and Filing Fees - Phase 1 Trademark Opposition / Extension (already covered from GoFundMe donations. Thank you!)
$4800 - Attorney and Filing Fees - Phase 2 Trademark Opposition
$500 - GoFundMe Payment Processing Fees
Exceeding our Goal - Establishment of a long term legal defense fund to protect free access to this title.
If you’ve already donated, thank you! You add immeasurably to the value of your donation each time you share the link to this campaign.
If the Public Domain is important to you, if the story of “Manos” fascinates you, or if you have enjoyed any of the many, many creative works inspired by “Manos”, please contribute what you can. If you can’t afford to donate right now, take a moment to bring our campaign to more people’s attention. The right eyes on a cause like this can make all the difference!
Always remember that, as a work in the Public Domain, "Manos: The Hands Of Fate" belongs to each and every one of us. Adventurous movie viewers like you made “Manos” the cult artifact that it is today, backers like you helped to save and restore it, and it’s people like you who can now help #KeepManosFree.
A family member of Hal Warren is attempting to trademark the title “Manos: The Hands of Fate” in order to control how it is used and whose projects are deemed acceptable. Though never successful in copyrighting the film itself, that has not stopped him from issuing Cease and Desists to a number of Manos-inspired projects over the last few years, including Manos: The Hands of Felt, a Manos: The Hands of Fate stage adaptation, the “Manos” Restoration and Jackey Neyman Jones herself for selling shirts bearing her father’s likeness.
This legal defense fund is dedicated to preserving the free use of the film’s title and was created by Jackey Neyman Jones, (Debbie in the film and daughter of lead actor Tom Neyman), and Ben Solovey (restorer of the original film). We are represented by Ian Friedman, Attorney at Law.
Our goal is to stop the trademark from being issued, and we are running out of time to act within the parameters of the Trademark office. The first step, filing a Letter of Protest to the USPTO, was completed on Wednesday February 1st. The Letter of Protest will not stop the clock on the publication process, nor can we guarantee that it will be accepted. Therefore, we must now prepare for the next step: an extension filed in order to give our formal Notice of Opposition the time it needs to be submitted, accepted and applied.
Filing fees and attorney fees alone will run in excess of $7000.00, inclusive of the already-completed Letter of Protest. If money remains in the budget after we have successfully met this legal challenge, it will be used to retain Ian Friedman over a greater period of time, during which he will be able to assist any fan or creator with similar challenges to the free and legal use of “Manos: The Hands of Fate”. As Ian likes to point out, “My daughter turned five in January recently, and I’ve been dealing with (Joe Warren) since before she was born.”
We are honored at how many people have extended their support through sharing, donating and discussion. Please continue to help us spread the word of Manos.
Thank you for your support and #KeepManosFree