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Groundhog Club, TruTV settle over ‘Punxsy Polamalu’ ad

June 28, 2011

Groundhog Club Vice-President Mike Johnston

PUNXSUTAWNEY — About 18 months after the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club issued a cease-and-desist order to prevent an ad for TruTV’s new show “NFL Full Contact” from airing during the second quarter of Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, the case has been settled.

Monday, Groundhog Club Vice-President Mike Johnston said the club, working with the Pittsburgh law firm of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, LLP, settled with TruTV and its parent companies, Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner and Grey Global Group.

The club did not formally file suit against TruTV, but the negotiated settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing by TruTV, as well as a granted one-time license to TruTV to use the ad — which the network generally spent when it did air the “Punxsutawney Polamalu” ad during Super Bowl XLIV.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome, and satisfied will our local counsel, Lukehart & Lundy, and our Pittsburgh counsel,” Johnston said.
Due to a confidentiality agreement between the parties, Johnston could not disclose details of the settlement.

In the ad, mini-Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is pulled from a stump — at a location looking an awful lot like Gobbler’s Knob by a group of men who look a lot like the Inner Circle — and sees his shadow ... just like Punxsutawney Phil.

In this case, “Punxsutawney Polamalu’s” prediction was “six more weeks” of football via TruTV’s show “NFL Full Contact,” which showed behind-the-scenes looks at preparing six important elements of the 2009-10 NFL season.

At the time, Johnston explained that the club believed that TruTV violated terms of the Groundhog Club’s trademarks, and that it filmed the ad without the club’s permission.

Johnston said representatives from neither TruTV nor a Los Angeles production company that filmed the ad offered any further information when he asked about details.

“I said, ‘Well, you don’t have permission to film until we approve what you’re doing,’” Johnston said in February 2010. “And I never heard another word.”

TruTV and the film company wanted to film the ad at the real Gobbler’s Knob, but in the end, wound up creating its own Knob at a location near Pittsburgh.

The “Punxsutawney Polamalu” ad began appearing on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Web site Feb. 1, 2010, but club officials saw it elsewhere on the Web. That’s when they then decided to file the cease-and-desist order through their attorney Jeff Lundy, also an Inner Circle member.

In February 2010, club President Bill Deeley said depictions in the ad — from the giant Punxsy Phil sign at the fabricated Gobbler’s Knob, to the top hats and tuxedos on Punxsy Polamalu’s handlers — were very close to the real thing.

“It’s not exact, but it’s so close, it’s unbelievable,” he said at the time. “It’s about as true a knock-off as a knock-off can be.”

“One of the key things about copyright is, if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Johnston said. “We must vigorously defend it, and we are taking a stand.”

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