Don't let the pretty new name fool you, Altria is the same old Phillip Morris. My buddy who works for the New York Times (and who shall remain nameless) faxed me a copy of a memo that has been circling around his office, which was leaked from the lovely and insane on-staff lawyers at the Altria Group's headquarters in Cavendish, MA.

It seems these lawyers have been figuring out how best to sue the 6 production companies responsible for Brokeback Mountain (your menu, gentlemen, is class action du jour or a la carte: Alberta Filmworks, Focus Features, Good Machine, Paramount Pictures, River Road Entertainment, and This is That Productions.) Why? Because sales of Marlboro have been in rapid decline in all Midwestern American counties, excepting a few in Texas and Georgia, since the movie's 2005 release. (They cite "47.2 billion fewer units [cigarettes] in Q1".)

It seems a little field research showed that good old country boys are having a little Brokeback-a-phobia, and switching to other brands that don't feature the Brokeback-esque Marlboro Man.

Their challenge, it would seem, is how to make a legal case to help reverse said trend. The primary argument being considered in the memo is one of—are you sitting down?—copyright infringement. Citing that McDonald's has successfully defended its copyright of something as abstract as a color and a shape, one lawyer suggested that Altria claim grandfather rights to the concept of "mountain masculinity," and the brand equity it has built up through "repeated association of the MM [sic] with scenes of ranch life, broad vistas, and manhood." But the movie, it would seem, has corrupted these pristine concepts. The Marlboro Man is now too gay to ape.

One section lists the possible likely counterarguments against the suit and subsequent counter-counterarguments. My favorite is about "parody," to wit, "[Ang] Lee can't possibly claim this to be parody, since less than 'a significant amount' of the original is present in the Work, c.f. 17 USC ยง 107." Hello! None of the original is in the "Work" because it has nothing to do with you!

In an even crazier bit of twisted logic, a minor paragraph near the end of the memo (did you know lawyers number their memo paragraphs? Neither did I.) suggests that Altria look not to receive consideration for the moneys lost from the "infringement," but rather to get a cut of DVD sales because "the Work clearly benefits from the branding efforts that has come before it, and Altria deserves to materially benefit."

But even if the lawyer logic isn't so airtight, no biggie. The conclusion notes that "It's not important that we win this case. It's important that we make a big media splash that firmly establishes Marlboro's disgust with all things Brokeback, to win back our lost consumers, esp. the younger ones."


So, anyway, somebody should publicize this litigious pre-fiasco and nip it in the bud, right?

No, no, and again, no. My buddy tells me that Altria is already aware of the leak but the NYT is burying the story—not because the leaked memo can't be solidly attributed, and certainly not because it's just a stupid abuse of an already screwed up intellectual property law—it's because of pressure from NYT board member Henry B. Schacht, who is jai alai buddies with none other than Lucio A. Noto, on the board of—you guessed it—Altria.

As if it needed saying, it's all a giant lie.

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