September 23, 1999 01:45am
Judge Says Playboy Must Change Sable Cover
by: Gail Appleson, Law Correspondent
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The World Wrestling Federation won a bout against Playboy Wednesday when a federal judge found the cover of a special issue devoted to the buxom ex-WWF wrestler Sable infringed on the federation's trademark.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said after a hearing in Manhattan federal court she would issue a temporary restraining order Thursday that would force Playboy to change the wording on the cover of its October issue of Wrestling Superstar. The magazine is scheduled to be distributed at newsstands by the middle of next month.
At issue is whether Playboy can use the name Sable, a WWF trademarked character portrayed by Rena Mero. In June, Mero quit her role and sued the WWF for sexual harassment, alleging she was ordered to show her breasts during a wrestling match. The suit was settled but the terms were not disclosed.
Monday, WWF filed its own suit alleging Playboy's plans to call Mero ``Sable'' in its upcoming issue containing nude photographs of the shapely blond infringed on its trademark.
In particular WWF objected to wording on the cover that says ``The Woman You Loved as Sable in the Raw.'' WWF said not only had Playboy used ``Sable'' but that the wording was too similar to the federation's Monday night wrestling program called ``Raw.''
Mero had posed for Playboy in April while still working for the WWF but the federation did not object to that.
Terry Budd, a lawyer for WWF, told the judge his client was not trying to stop publication of the entire magazine, just the way Playboy had used the name Sable.
``We have turned it into an uncommon name particularly in the wrestling context,'' he said. ``There are many talents in our organization and they all vie for celebrity status and whether they will get TV exposure.''
He said Playboy knew using the name was lucrative and its use of ``Sable'' was not ``innocent infringement.'' The Stamford, Conn., company said in its suit that it created the character as a woman known for ``gyrating her hips and body in a highly suggestive, sexual manner.''
She is often seen wearing long black leather gloves and carrying a whip.
Budd said Playboy could publish as many nude photos as it wanted of Mero, but the magazine could not trade on its logo.
Playboy's lawyer David Francescani argued that the magazine's use of the name Sable was a matter of free speech.
``We were very disappointed by the judge's ruling,'' he said. ``We felt it was proper to be able to identify to readers that Rena Mero was Sable.''
Francescani said 500,000 covers had already been printed.
He would not say if his client would appeal, however Scheindlin has scheduled a telephone conference for Thursday aimed at having both sides work out how the cover can be changed.