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Porn mogul Larry Flynt sues nephews over use of family name

Flynt says his good name in adult entertainment is being cheapened by his relatives' porn movies. They respond that Flynt is their name too.

January 07, 2009|Victoria Kim and Andrew Blankstein

Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt has been called a lot of things over the years. But he insists that the Flynt name still stands for quality when it comes to adult entertainment.

So this week, he filed suit against two nephews who are using the family name for their own line of adult films. Flynt said he is going to court to protect his good name, saying that he is concerned that Jimmy Flynt II and Dustin Flynt might tarnish the Flynt franchise by producing lower-quality porn that the lawsuit calls "inferior products" and "knock-off goods."

"To come into the adult entertainment business and use my name not only confuses people who buy my products, but if they're not maintaining a certain quality, it could also hurt my name," Larry Flynt told The Times on Tuesday.

The younger Flynts strongly disagree, saying that they are trying only to break into the family business.

"It's my brother and my turn to be successful in this business," said Dustin Flynt, who worked for his uncle before he was fired about a year ago. "The fact of the matter is my name is Flynt. If I can't use my name to do business, then what kind of society, what kind of world is that?"

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, marks the start of a family feud that experts say raises tricky legal questions.

On one hand, trademark law exists to prevent confusion with an existing brand. But on the other, people generally have the right to use their own name in business, said Roger Schechter, a George Washington University professor and an expert on trademark law.

Schechter said the question of how much brand names matter to consumers of adult entertainment will also be a point of contention in the suit. The senior Flynt's attorneys will need to prove that the Flynt name matters and that his nephews are purposefully trying to gain an unfair advantage by using it, he said.

In other cases, courts have sided with the original trademark owner. In a landmark New York case brought by Taylor Wine Co. against founder Walter Taylor's grandson, the younger Taylor was ordered to use the name only with a disclaimer and with a certain size type font. Taylor eventually was ordered to stop using the name altogether when he ignored that order, Schechter said.

Before the current Flynt family dispute, the brothers had worked under their uncle's wing for more than a decade before Larry Flynt fired them for being unproductive. Larry Flynt said that he gave each of them a severance package of $100,000 and that they used that money to start a competitive company that is abusing his name.

Larry Flynt said he had seen his nephews' films -- which include titles such as "Positive Exposure" and "Sex at Your Service" -- and was unimpressed. Regardless of the suit's outcome, he said, he is convinced that the fledgling business will eventually go under and that he will end up throwing the nephews a lifeline.

Dustin Flynt accused his uncle of filing the lawsuit out of "inferiority issues," and said trademark lawsuits were "a way for big business and rich people to put a muzzle on the little guy." He said he worked his way up in the business over the years, and said his new film "surpasses anything Hustler's ever done."

"I spent a lot of blood, flesh and tears working directly for my family, and it wasn't easy," he said.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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