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You Wanna Get Sued?

Groundskeeper Willie: Get away, ye little- (thinking) No, no, go easy on the wee one. His father's going to go crazy and chop 'em all into haggis.
Bart: What's haggis?
Willie: Boy, you read my thoughts! You've got "the shinning"!
Bart: You mean "shining".
Willie: Shh... you wanna get sued?
The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror V", "The Shinning"

Sometimes, a rather more direct Shout-Out or name dropping is attempted, but to do so would skirt dangerously close to trademark law. While there are plenty of ways to use substitutes or write around the trademarks, another way is to go ahead with the reference, but deliberately not go through with it, just far enough for the audience to know exactly who or what you're talking about.

There are many ways to get around this visually: Censor mosaic, a black bar over the eyes, or pull back and only make a strong resemblance. But with dialogue, a common way is to have a character obliquely reference the Fourth Wall by stopping the mention before it finishes, directly warning the speaker about getting their makers in trouble. In writing, especially for comics and manga, whatever word they want to say will be said by the character, but the text of the name itself will be partially blanked out or substituted with wingdings.

See also Writing Around Trademarks, Lawyer-Friendly Cameo, Captain Ersatz, Bland-Name Product, Disney Owns This Trope, Our Lawyers Advised This Trope.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • Hilariously Invoked and Lampshaded by Samsung to lampoon the NFL's over-enthusiastic defense of its trademarks in their preparations for a Supe—*censored*, ahem, Big Game ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzfAdmAtYIY
  • UK off-licence chain Oddbins invoked this trope in their ads in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, referencing the fact that only official licensed adverts could directly refer to them. This led to such Oddbins ads as "We're not allowed to use the name. We're not allowed to mention the location. We're not even allowed to mention the year. But celebrate them with us anyway" and "Celebrate the [CENSORED] with Oddbins" (yes, that's exactly how it was printed).
  • EU law is such that the names "Parmesan" and "Feta" can no longer be used to refer generically to cheese varieties, but only to cheeses specifically from their original production regions. Hence there's a lot of "Greek-style salad cheese" and "Italian-style cheese" around. It is probably only a matter of time before we see "Canadian West-Country Style cheese".

    Anime & Manga 
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!
  • Haruhi Suzumiya, in a Shout-Out to the Gundam series. (There were Gundams shooting, but heavily censored!)
    Haruhi: Bring out the *beep*dams!"
  • Lucky Star
    • "Don't you have any special talents?" "Talents, hmm... I can name every single Po__mon!"
    • They actually took this to the point where it verged on parody in one scene: Konata and her dad were talking about Gundam... while avoiding any names, images blurred, and censor bars over their eyes.
    • Another episode censors Code Geass and Lelouch's name. Ironically, Bandai would later get the rights to license both Code Geass and Lucky Star.
    • Also, the Image Song "Yuuchou Sentai Dararenjaa" cut short a reference to Kamen Rider Faiz. Also ironically, Bandai has the license to produce Kamen Rider merchandise.
    • Thus they can make references to other properties they own. There's several references to Kamen Rider Den-O instead throughout, almost all of them being catchphrases of Momotaros. (And obviously Super Sentai as a whole with the name, and a couple veiled referencess to Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger thrown in.)
      Saishuu KIIIIIIIIKKU!
    • Also, they referenced Dragon Quest V like above. "A childhood friend? Or a rich lady? One has lots of money... and the ability to cast Boho_mi and I___zun." (Bohoimi=Midheal and Ionazun=Kaboom)
  • The Hyper Dolls manga has this when the Gratuitous English naming scheme for the Monsters Of The Week runs into an arachnid creature.
  • Variations would occasionally be lampshaded by Kawachi in Yakitate!! Japan.
  • Happens every five minutes in Hayate the Combat Butler; Every single trademarked name is bleeped out, which leads to some pretty bleep-heavy sentences where otaku Nagi is involved.
    • A particularly funny example shows up when Hayate is about to use a sword technique whose name starts with "Hiten-". His opponent cuts him off, saying they can't risk that kind of reference, even with bleeps.
    • In the manga, this is even lampshaded in the one instance it was actively avoided - when the Sega game Mushiking was mentioned without editing, one character wondered aloud about whether it should be. It was pointed out that they got permission to use it, and thus needed to repeat the game's name as much as possible.
      Why don't you rich kids coax your parents to buy one!
    • The anime's second season averts all this, with barely any lack of pop culture references.
  • In Excel♥Saga there's a seiyuu joke where Excel is dressed similarly to Sailor Moon and does an In the Name of the Moon speech, and the bad guy says, "Hey, that's that anime from awhile ago, Sailor ***, right? Nah, that one's already over..."
  • The first few minutes of Seitokai no Ichizon contain so many blatant Shout Outs the characters themselves start warning each other over the legal trouble they might suffer. This continues throughout the series only less concentrated.
  • In Gintama, during the Bentendo Owee arc, Katsura makes a showy entrance in a costume that's obviously based on that of certain plumber, which prompts an onlooker to ask if he's Mario, though they get cut off by him before they can say the "o"...only for him go ahead and say "It's not Mario, it's Katsu-", which gets him a kick in the face from Shinpachi. Subverted when it turns out he just was annoyed at Katsura's stupidity for appearing directly in front of Shinsengumi when they intend to arrest him (Though Hijikata is stupid enough to think he's actually Mario).
  • In Rosario + Vampire: 2nd Year, when Kokoa magically shrinks into a child's body after one of Yukari's inventions backfires, the girls try to find clothes that would suit her condition. One of them is an Arale cosplay, which she at first takes in stride, but then tears the costume off while citing the trope.
  • In one chapter of Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai, the characters are in a space opera setting and are being attacked by mechs that are not Zakus. One of the characters warns that they're bordering on copyright infringement here, which is apparently a bigger concern than being killed.
  • In Ratman, Super Zero Fatman is given his own Thememobile- A tumblar called the Fatmobile. An aside is asked to not tell Warner Bros....
  • This is a Running Gag in the reference-happy Haiyore! Nyarko-san. In one of the Nyaruani shorts, Mahiro stops Nyarko from saying "Love Plus" by saying "Didn't I just recently tell you not to piss people off?", and in the OVA episode he prevents Cuuko from saying "Accel World" by bopping her upside the head.

    Comic Books 
  • Adam Warren ran this joke into the ground for his Gen 13 limited series Magical Drama Queen Roxy. Usually said by the "fairy god critter" (who also apologizes for saying "bibbity boppity boo" and mentioning the Whitney Houston version of Cinderella). Toward the end he does the death scene from Titanic with a large sign in front of "Jack's" face, saying "not really (a series of increasingly silly misspellings of Leo's name), really!!"
  • From an old Wonder Man one-shot that featured Simon Williams ending up in the Mojo verse. Mojo's lackey points out that Marvel owns the Wonder Man copyright:
    Mojo: No problem. A quick gender flip and we market him as Wonder Wo...
    Lackey: Lawsuit city, dead ahead.
  • A similar joke was used/expanded on in a one-panel gag in Marvel's What If? #34, which asked the musical question, "What if Wonder Man was a woman, and Power Man was a girl?" The panel is partially covered up by a note from "Your Distinguished Competition" advising against printing the gag.
  • From Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, there is a comment from an employee that says she will be punished, and will end up working on Taco Bell. On a little footnote, it says Don't sue me, I'm funny!.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns teases Superman's appearance with news stories of people being saved by a red/blue blur. The news anchor keeps trying to say lines from the opening of the Fleischer Brothers cartoons, but is warned against finishing them each time due to legal concerns.
    • During the Batman: Hush storyline, both Batman and Catwoman at one point say, "Faster than a speeding...you know."
  • An issue of Justice League America pointed out that Fire resembled Marvel's Human Torch.
    Citizen #1 Look up in the sky!
    Citizen #2 It's a bird!
    Citizen #3 It's a plane!
    Citizen #4 It's the Human...
    Citizen #4 ...Don't say it!

    Film 

  • In Austin Powers in Goldmember, the events during a chase scene set in Japan include a cart carrying a statue of a Godzilla-like monster rolling through the streets. A random person in the street shouts "Run! It's Godzilla!" Another person, standing next to him, mentions that it's clearly not Godzilla, because if it were, it would violate copyright laws.
    • "Still, we should run like it is Godzilla! (quite calmly) Though it isn't." (runs away panicked)
      • Said "another person" would be Masi Oka.
      • What makes that scene hilarious is a Charmander that is also fleeing from the aforementioned Godzilla.
  • In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the title characters have a Bongsaber Duel with the Cocknocker in their Bluntcave.
    "I think George Lucas gon' sue somebody"
  • In Kick-Ass the superhero Big Daddy is described several times as looking like Batman, almost always followed by a panicked "I never said he looked like Batman!!!"
  • In The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, after one character produces a lightsaber from "the trunk", he's informed that "he can't use a lightsaber, it's not even the right system!"
    Brother Silence: I don't see a lightsaber. That would be copyright infringement. I see a psionic spirit blade.
  • Inverted in Blazing Saddles:
    Mel Brooks: Thank you, Hedy, thank you.
    Hedley Lamarr: It's not Hedy; it's Hedley. Hedley Lamarr.
    Mel Brooks: What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874. You'll be able to sue her!
    • Funnily enough, Hedy Lamar did end up suing the movie over the use of her name.

    Live Action TV 
  • Lampshaded when Alton Brown has an episode "busting" some food myths in Good Eats. Just as he starts to say "bust some my-", the telephone rings and he demands his lawyer on why he can't finish the phrase. The reason? "'COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT'?!" He reluctantly changes it to "Myth Smashers".
  • The Colbert Report's Vancouverage (which is so not Olympic coverage).
  • Done in-universe in iCarly. They start singing "Happy Birthday" on the webshow, only for Freddie to interrupt them and point out that it isn't public domain. They switch to "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".
  • From the season 3 Christmas episode of Glee :
    Blaine: (To Finn and Puck) Say, are you dressed like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo?
    Finn: No, that's copyright infringement! Any resemblance to Star Wars characters is purely coincidental!
  • The Muppet Show:
    Scooter: The people that published the music from Camelot just called and they won't let you do it.
    Kermit: What? I was willing to give them credit! I would've given them a big build up! I would have given anything to do the jousting scene!
    Scooter: They want money.
    Kermit: Cancel the jousting scene.
    • Camelot must be a particularly good target because we get this gag in the Animaniacs episode "Sir Yaksalot":
      "In the town of Camelot
      "We love to sing all day,
      "But we can't sing the movie score
      "Or else they'll make us pay!"
  • From Mystery Science Theater 3000, we get:
    "To infinity and..."
    "Umm, Disney? Lawsuit?"
    "And, um, other places!"
    • The 10th volume of the DVD collections of the series was originally released with Godzilla vs. Megalon; unfortunately, the rights fell through, and the future releases of volume "10.2" had an extra skit on the replacement The Giant Gila Monster disk where Dr. Forrester scolds TV's Frank for not getting the rights to the "Japanese Giant Monster Movie" (or as Frank and Joel put it, "(Mumble) vs. (Unintelligible)").
  • Hilariously toyed with by James May on an episode of Top Gear where, while cooking during a camping episode, he spends about 2 minutes trying to describe a particular treat whose name can't be specifically used for legal reasons...but then finishes up with, "but of course you know they're Jaffa Cakes."
  • LazyTown is a no brainer cause of the "evil dude"'s gallery resembeling Power Rangers Zeo.
    Bill: "Saban is gonna sue you for stealing his idea.
    • In real life, Saban DID sue the guys who made LazyTown for being a copycat to the Power Chamber display cases & won. So as a result, the "evil dude" later got an upgraded disguse machine where his disguses are projected one at a time instead of being shown in tubes all at once. The works of it stayed the same.

    Magazines 
  • Used in the classic MAD parody "Bat Boy and Rubin!"
    Bat Boy: Now! Onto the window sill! Faster than a speeding bullet, Kapweeng! Up... up... up and away!
    Rubin: Wait a minute, Bat Boy! That 'faster than a speeding bullet' is another character's routine!... It may be copyrighted! Want to get us sued?
    • This and many other references to the fact that these characters are not those other comic book characters are payback for legal threats from DC concerning their previous parody, "Superduperman". Ironically, MAD had predicted they would get sued for their still earlier Dragnet parody, whose opening caption said, "Only the names haven't been changed so as not to protect the writer of this story!"

    Music 
  • In Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America, the Indian chief sweetens his offer to sell New York to the Dutch by adding Staten Island to the package, and the real estate agents exclaims, "Is that a generous Indian? You'll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too!" He then gets a phone call (presumably from Richard Rodgers's lawyer) with the message that they'll have to pay royalties if they quote any more. The Indian threatens to bring on another phone call by mentioning his wife's preference for "baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads."
  • In The Beatles' 1965 Christmas message to their fan club, John starts singing a song by The Four Tops:
    John: It's the same old song, but a different meaning since...
    George: Copyright, Johnny!
  • The Barron Knights made an entire career of parodying current pop songs. They sometimes got into trouble for this; and they once lampshaded this with one of their medleys, appropriately called "Trouble".

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Curt Hennig, at the time formerly Mr. Perfect in the WWF (now WWE), cut off frequent associate Rick Rude from calling him perfect on WCW television so they wouldn't get sued.
    • TNA had another example, when the Planet Jarrett stable had a mock-funeral for Team 3D's career. James Storm started to mock one of the catchphrases they used in WWE as The Dudley Boys, only for Jeff Jarrett to cut him off:
      Jarrett: James! Be serious for a moment! Their careers are already dead, they don't need another lawsuit!
    • Jarrett has had a moment like that of his own. He defeated Mark Starr on the August 17, 1997 WCW Saturday Night. After the match, "Mean" Gene Okerlund called him "Double..uh, Jeff Jarrett", a reference to Jarrett's WWE Red Baron "Double J."
  • During the Midwest Militia (Sassy Stephie/Allysin Kay)-KOA (Sugar Dunkerton/Aaron Epic) match at WSU vs. Beyond Wrestling, October 13, 2012, while Stephie had Dunkerton in a hammerlock, Epic tried starting a "YES! YES! YES!" chant, and Stephie said, "That's trademarked."

    Radio 
  • This is a frequent joke on Car Talk due to Tom and Ray's unabashed negative opinions of certain companies *coughGMChryslerFordcough*, though there have been several occasions when they've actually gotten in trouble.

    Video Games 
  • Super Robot Wars W when Lowe from Gundam SEED Astray accidentally re-routes all the Red Frame's power to one of its hand plugs, and attacks an enemy with it. While this attack is known in its original series as the "Thunder Ball", Gai Daigoji is cut off before he can suggest calling it the "Shining Finger" - by a character who shares the same voice actor as Ryusei Date, in a bit of creative irony (Ryusei's own R-1 has the completely original T-Link Knuckle).
  • In the Japanese version of Mega Man 7, Mega Man will sometimes converse with Roll or Auto instead of Dr. Light after acquiring a new weapon (screenshots with translations here). One of these is likely meant as a parody of the trope since it references a property jointly-owned by Capcom:
    Mega Man: "With this Slash Claw, I can slice through anything."
    Auto: "Incredible! It's like SXrXder HiXyuu!"
    Mega Man: "Promise you won't say that again."
  • Similarly, one episode of "Teach Me, Miss Litchi!" has Litchi comparing Ragna to Chipp Zanuff, prompting the former to yell "Gauntlet Hades!" to "obscure" the meaning.
    • In the English dub of that episode, she's just interrupted while mentioning Chipp's name by Taokaka loudly entering Litchi's clinic.
  • Lunar: Eternal Blue, when asked about the birds pulling a wagon. "These? They're Choc....uh....Chuckaboos!"
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, after the chapter's end, you can still go hide by the birds in Twilight Town and listen to them talk. One of the birds wants to open a pay site for real estate called "Luigi's Mansion". The other bird thinks he's heard the name somewhere before, and warns him against using it, lest he get sued. (They go ahead and say the name, because both are by Nintendo.)
  • This exchange from Uncharted 2:
    Nathan: I'll go down there and create a distraction, while you take one of those nice-looking Jee—
    Elena: 4x4s.
    Nathan: —4x4s.
  • The Interactive Fiction game Toonesia, so not set in the Looney Tunes world (and starring many familiar-looking characters). Should you examine the Tasmanian Devil:
    The Tazmanian Devil is a real animal, not a copyright of a certain large corporation with lots of legal muscle. I can therefore mention it by name in this game. Unfortunately, if I were to describe a real-life Tazmanian Devil, you'd only be disappointed—they don't look like much. So, I won't describe the slavering beast before you. And if you assume that it has a boxy body attached to short thin legs, two large maniacal eyes set above a wide, drooling, sharp-fanged mouth, and brown fur all over, then YOU'RE violating copyright, not me.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Nearly every episode of The Allen And Craig Show involves a scheme that revolves around Allen copying a popular television show, movie, or internet meme/trend in his attempts to gain notoriety, including but not limited to House, Hells Kitchen, and the popular Diet Coke and Mentos YouTube video.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh Cr@psule Monsters when Tristan finds a Pikachu-like mon:
    Tristan: That one looks like the mascot of a popular anime series based on the concept of catching animals. I think it's called Dinosaur King.
    • Another Yugioh Abridged Example was, strangely enough, a retroactive instance of this trope. Tea said "It is on in a matter similar to that of Donkey Kong." Shortly after the episode was released, by complete coincidence, Nintendo filed a trademark on the real phrase, "It's on like Donkey Kong."
  • Hogan Vs Flair bills a number of WWE and TNA wrestlers under other names, ostensibly for just this reason. . For example The Dudley Boyz/Team 3D are called "Team 3rd Dimension", with Bubba Ray billed as "Bowling Shirt" and D-Von called "Camo Pants".
  • In Arfenhouse Teh Movie Too, "LAWSUIT" stamps are displayed after segments ripping off Excel♥Saga and Boxer Man.
  • This story started with a song by Roberto Carlos until a character ordered it to stop out of fear Carlos would sue them.
  • Dr.Doofenshmirtz in one of his Vlogs said That he cant Legally say IPhone on the show ,so he called it a IDoo-hickey.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • The Trope Namer is a line from one of "Treehouse of Horror" segments. Specifically, The Shinning.
    • In another episode, Lisa tells the story of Snow White. The blue-haired lawyer guy tells her she can't because the tale belongs to Disney, but Lisa counters this by claiming the tale has been out forever and isn't owned by anyone. Plus the dwarves were her own creation.
      "Ho hi, ho hi, it's time to say goodbye. If Disney sues, we'll claim fair use, ho hi ho hi!"
    • In one episode, "Sherri Bobbins" is immediately recognized to be an obvious Expy of Mary Poppins, but she explains that she's a wholly original character, like "Ricky Rouse" or "Monald Muck".
    • Also, in the comic, everyone is about to sing Happy Birthday to You, until the blue-haired lawyer advises them against it.
    • Another "Treehouse of Horror" opens with the Simpson family cast as The Munsters. Lisa/Marilyn is carrying a book of copyright law.
    • In universe where Krusty was hosting a ceremony. Music was played until he stopped it, claiming that one more line and they'd have to pay for the entire song.
    • "The President Wore Pearls" is a spoof of Evita (with Lisa as Eva Peron), but the end credits include the statement "On the advice of our lawyers, we have never heard of any musical about the life of Eva Peron".
  • Family Guy
    Peter: Thank you, Stephen King; we'll see you in court.
    • In another episode, the characters refer a few times to McDaniels and various generic-sounding Expys of McDonald's products, followed each time by a frustrated Lampshade by Quagmire.
    Quagmire: So frustrating. We all KNOW what we're talking about!
    • Yet another episode has Brian and Stewie sharing candy they got for Halloween over the ending credits, but as Stewie says, they're not allowed to use real-world candy names and instead come up with various names that are almost but not quite the same. It ends with Stewie muttering, "God I hate television."
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force
    • In one episode the Plutonians use a device called a Fargate to cross time and space.
    Emory: "I think he went through the Starg-"
    Oglethorpe: "IT IS A FARGATE! F! Goes far, get it? From the makers of Findependence Day! We're NOT getting sued!"
    • And the not-Powerpuff Girl (honest!) with a mohawk and in a wheelchair on their T-shirt.
    • This from "2-and-a-Half-Star Wars Out Of Five".
      Master Shake: Whoa! Where in the hell did you get a lightsa...
      Frylock: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Waver, lightwaver! Very different from what you are about to say.
      • Hilariously this is the only moment in the episode that invokes this trope while for most the episode and a few moments after this scene the trope is averted.
  • On Celebrity Deathmatch, Tobey Maguire battles Jake Gyllenhaal with a box from which spring forth giant metal tentacles which are clearly NOT Doctor Octopus's arms from Spider-Man 2 because that, points out the announcer, would be copyright infringement.
  • In Yin Yang Yo, there's a minor villain named The Puffin. Like The Penguin, he has an umbrella and a top hat, but as Yang points out: As long as they specify that he is a puffin, they can't be sued.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures has done this quite a few times. In "Best O' Plucky Duck Day":
    Buster: Today we're presenting three hysterical duck tales...
    Plucky: Don't use that word!
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic once made an appearance in an episode of Eek! The Cat. When Eek starts gushing about Al's music, Al shushes him with "You sing one note, and you'll be paying some goofball's publishing company from now 'til the end of forever. Do you want that? Huh? Do you?!"
  • One South Park ends with a fourth-wall lean about how the characters (i.e. creators) are free to exercise their freedom of speech regarding Scientology being a scam and are not afraid of being sued. Cue a credits roll entirely consisting of John and Jane Smiths.
  • Clerks: The Animated Series dealt with this a few times.
    • During Episode 3's spoof of Outbreak, the show stops to explain that all references to Dustin Hoffman will be replaced with Al Pacino (due to a recent lawsuit by Hoffman).
    • In Episode 5, Randall's high school yearbook photo has his head placed over the famous photo of General Nguyen. For reasons that eluded the writers, adding a fictional character to a cartoon version of a copyrighted photo didn't legally constitute parody - until they added a caption..
  • Garfield and Friends: When a cricket volunteered himself to be Garfield's conscience, he offered a Pinocchio book and Garfield started reading it until the cricket warned him about being sued by Disney.
  • Pinky and the Brain: Brain once tried to raise money in the theater world. The producer he tried to pitch his play said he wanted something different from the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber Expy Albert Floyd Webster, but only different enough to avoid being sued.
  • The Fairly OddParents. When The Three Musketeers were given mice-like features, Wanda said they became the three Mous... Timmy interrupted her. "Mouseketeer" was a word used in some Tom and Jerry cartoons. A different group of Mouseketeers were a Disney property, and perhaps a bit more likely to get someone sued.
  • One of Futurama's "Tales of Interest" episodes featured a group of people who "resemble but are legally distinct from the Lollipop Guild".
  • In the Walter Melon episode parodying Jurassic Park, the heroine suggests the park may have been sabotaged by a rival theme park. Not wanting to get sued, the John Hammond Expy cuts her off before she can name whatever one she was thinking of.


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