An Oklahoma man who goes by the stage name “Joe Exotic” has been ordered to pay a Florida animal sanctuary $1 million because the various logos and images he uses to promote himself and his wild animal tourist attraction infringe on the sanctuary’s trademarks.

The man, whose birth name is Joe Schreibvogel, runs a wild animal tourist attraction called GW Exotic Animal Park. He was sued in January 2011 by Big Cat Rescue, a wildlife preserve north of Tampa that helps orphaned and injured wild felines, like tigers and panthers. On Feb. 12, a federal judge decided in favor of Big Cat Sanctuary.

Big Cat Rescue’s legal team had alleged that Schreibvogel and GW Exotic Animal Park created promotional material that was so artistically similar to trademarked material used by Big Cat Rescue that a reasonable person would have been confused.

That was especially distressing to Big Cat Rescue because Schreibvogel is an outspoken critic of laws meant to prevent or curtail the right of private citizens to own exotic animals as pets. Big Cat Rescue takes a position that is almost the polar opposite; it has campaigned for such law because it believes wild animals are not pets and should not be treated as such.
A lawyer for Big Cat Rescue said his client thinks that some of the things GW Exotic Animal Park does, such as allowing visitors to take their photographs with big felines, are abusive practices. He also said Schreibvogel had engaged in an online smear campaign against Big Cat Rescue because he is opposed to the work it is doing.

In interview, Schreibvogel (who, interestingly enough, seems to be trying to brand himself as a reality television star) has been flippant and glib, saying he does not care about the judgment. He has indicated that Big Cat Sanctuary will not get the $1 million it has been awarded.

We certainly hope that is not true, and we hope that Schreibvogel changes his attitude. Win, lose or draw, we all have to be respectful to our courts.

Source: The Oklahoman, “‘Joe Exotic’ ordered to pay Florida animal sanctuary $1 million,” Andrew Knittle, March 4, 2013
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