The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, in a controversial plan to raise $300,000 yearly to maintain the city's Walk of Fame, has signed licensing agreements allowing 20 companies to use the likeness of the famous Hollywood sign and other city landmarks on jeans, coffee mugs and other items.
Viola Park Fashions Inc. of New York; I Love a Button, Bethpage, N.Y., and 18 California firms have agreed to pay the chamber initial licensing fees ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 and royalties of between 7% and 10% in exchange for the right to use the word Hollywood or likenesses of the community's landmarks to help market their products.
The move has raised the ire of some local merchants, as well as officials in Hollywood, Fla., who question the chamber's authority to charge royalties for the use of the name "Hollywood." The critics feel that the famous name should be in the public domain and free for anyone to use.
"People think they own the rights to everything," fumed Jim Arthur, president of California Lifestyles, a manufacturer of souvenir T-shirts and sportswear in Compton. "If the name of the city isn't in the public domain, what is. Next thing you know, the state of California is going to charge royalties for using the name California on shirts."
Added James E. Chandler, city manager of Hollywood, Fla.:
"I would question the legality of the whole thing. We've used the name Hollywood since 1927, when the city was incorporated."
Bill Welsh, chamber president, said, however, that the response to the program has generally been positive. He said only a Hollywood, Fla., city councilman has called to complain about the licensing program.
"I told him as long as you refer to yourself as Hollywood, Fla., we have no problem with you," Welsh recalled Friday. "That seemed to end the conversation right there."
There has been no legal challenge to the trademarks, according to chamber officials.
The licensing agreements come about a year after the organization spent about $25,000 in legal fees to obtain trademark protection for some of the city's most famous attractions: the 50-foot tall Hollywood sign; the Hollywood Christmas Parade; the Hollywood Walk of Fame; the design of the stars on the walk and the word "Hollywood" itself.
Walk of Fame
The Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame are the focus of a weeklong celebration that began Friday and is called Hollywood II: Sequel to a Golden Era.
Chamber officials said they obtained trademark protection for Hollywood under a newly revised state law. Thus, trademark protection for the word Hollywood applies only to products that are either made or sold in California.
However, Edward Lewis, the chamber's vice president of marketing, said the organization is seeking to extend its claim nationwide through federal trademark protection.
If that is done, Lewis said he expects that within 18 months, the licensing program will bring in about $300,000 annually to maintain the roughly 2.3 miles of the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.
George J. Wienbarg, vice president of sales for licensee Viola Park Fashions, said his company is excited about joining the chamber's licensing program. He called the Hollywood sign "the most recognizable trademark since Coca-Cola."
Wienbarg's firm will market a collection of Hollywood clothing. The apparel, which include jeans with a "Hollywood" patch on the back pocket and sweaters and skirts with "Hollywood" garment tags, will be sold at stores nationwide and will retail for between $40 and $90, he said. Wienbarg said he expects sales of $5 million for the first year.
Despite the promise of profits, however, sportswear maker Arthur said he has stopped making Hollywood shirts and does not plan to join the chamber's licensing program.
"First it was the private colleges that started licensing their name, then the public schools we pay for--like USC and UCLA--started putting trademarks on their names," Arthur complained. "I'm all for raising money for good causes, but something has to be left to the private sector."