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Hackademy Awards name winners and losers, but Academy Awards have a problem with that

February 19, 2009 |  3:47 pm

With the Academy Awards a mere few days away, no doubt the Oscar folks are busily vacuuming the red carpet and shining up the giant gold statues for the big day.

Ka8y1tncThey've also been busy doing something else. Seems the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not too happy with another somewhat homonymous ceremony called the Hackademy Awards, in which movies are given the "Thumbs Up!" prize for not showing tobacco use at all, or depicting the evils of the tobacco industry, or the "Thumbs Down!" award for needlessly showing tobacco use as a repercussion-free activity. The annual awards are given out by Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, a nonprofit, Sacramento-based group involved with public policy, research and education on clean air and a tobacco-free environment. We'll get to this year's winners and losers in a minute.

AMPAS filed a petition for cancellation last August with the appeal board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office seeking to have Breathe California's trademark for "Hackademy Awards" revoked. The group has been using that title since 1997, and trademarked it about two years ago, according to Kori Titus, the organization's deputy director. AMPAS feels the award show title hits a little too close to home.

According to Leslie Unger, the Academy's director of communication, "When we were made aware of it, we pursued it as we're obliged to do when we feel our trademark is potentially being diluted. We are obliged to protect our trademark in all cases because if we don't protect it in one instance, it diminishes our ability to protect it in others." She added, "We have no opinion whatsoever on what they're doing, merely the phrase they're using. We can't allow that to become confused with this organization in any way." She went on to say that AMPAS is not asking that Breathe California stop using the name or end the awards show, only that it give up the trademark.

But Titus isn’t too keen on that.

"They're saying that we're somehow making the public not understand there is a difference [between the two events]." She'd be surprised, she added, if anyone confused them.

Titus was also surprised to hear from AMPAS last May about the name. "It's an obvious parody of the Academy Awards," she says, "but we're trying to raise awareness about the issue and protect the health of young children." She added that through attorneys working pro bono, "we tried to come up with an amicable agreement, but we were unfortunately not successful." The group is now in the process of putting together evidence for the appeal.

The dispute didn't have an impact on Breathe California's awards ceremony last night in Sacramento, where "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" got thumbs down for its 100 or so incidents of cigarette smoking, as compiled by the group's panel of young reviewers (and a few adults, too). The big Thumbs Up! winner was "What Happens in Vegas," and just in case you blinked and missed that one, it was a rom-com starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. That had no smoking in it whatsoever, despite the fact that it was set in a city known for being pretty tobacco tolerant.

"There was no tobacco and nobody missed it," Titus said. "Nobody left the movie saying, 'I can’t believe they didn't show tobacco.' The point is that it's rarely so integral to the plot and people rarely miss it when it’s not there."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by Merrick Morton / Paramount Pictures