WNY jewelers considers suing Hollywood for copyright infringement

What started in 1996 at a brightly lit kiosk in Cheektowaga has become a jewelry operation in western New York that many are familiar with, especially because of the commercials.

Those commercials are so popular, the owners thought the tagline was stolen by a major motion picture.

That tagline has made Airport Plaza Jewelers famous — OK, maybe infamous.

“They think I’m nuts, but that’s OK,” said Airport Plaza Jewelers owner Don Hoffman.

More than a decade ago, Hoffman floated the idea to a friend.

“And he said, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,’ and I said, ‘Well we gotta do it now,’” Hoffman said. “And he was almost disgusted with it, so I said, well we’re going to have fun with that,”  And we did it, only with the thought of doing it for a couple of weeks. And the rest is history.”

But then recently Don’s marketing director Brian Dickman saw something that caught his attention.

“There it was, Julia Roberts saying, ‘It won’t cost an arm and a leg.’ And I was like, time to call the attorneys,” Dickman said.

Hoffman’s saying, “It won’t cost you an arm and a leg,” is trademarked, as are pictures of him with the arm and a leg selling jewelry. And in order to uphold the trademark and copyright, the prohibition of their infringement must be enforced.

“If you see somebody that is infringing on your service mark or copyright or trademark, you have to make an effort to protect it,” Hoffman said. “Or you lose the opportunity to protect it in the future.”

Even if that fight is against Julia Roberts.

“At first glance it looked remarkably similar,” Hoffman said of the part in the movie, Mother’s Day, that features Roberts selling jewelry using a mannequin’s arm. “And she’s selling jewelry for crying out loud.”

But then they realized, maybe a lawsuit would be taking it too far. Or maybe they’ll write a cease and desist letter. Or maybe it was their attorneys told them it actually would cost them an arm and a leg to sue one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

“So we calmed down and decided in a private conversation, OK, we’re not going to sue Julia Roberts after all,” Hoffman laughed. “And our copyright attorneys were very happy about that.”

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