IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The excruciating battle for ownership of the ‘Eat Bulaga’ brand
One must be living under a big rock for months to not know that the brand name of “Eat Bulaga” is now the subject of an ongoing tussle between the comedy triumvirate of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey de Leon, (TVJ) and the Jalosjos-led Television and Production Exponents (TAPE) Inc.
Who would have guessed that after 44 years on air, the bitter breakup between the seemingly well-adjusted parties would result in a shakeup in the noontime watching habit of Filipinos, and would in fact bring two competing shows (TAPE’s “Eat Bulaga” and ABS-CBN’s “It’s Showtime”) under one roof (GMA Network Inc.), technically.
Before TVJ made their “historic” transfer to TV-5, after their “disengagement” from TAPE last July 1, the trio was adamant in saying that the brand name of “Eat Bulaga” and everything that goes with it and into the program, is theirs — from the title, to the design, to the theme song of the program. But TAPE is not about to hand over the brand name just like that, even if it meant having to swallow the bitter pill of loyal viewers refer to their revamped show as the “Fake Bulaga.”
So far, TAPE appeared to have drawn first blood after claiming victory in the renewal of the trademark registration of “Eat Bulaga,” valid for 10 years. The TVJ camp remained unbothered, pointing out that it’s a mere “ministerial act” on the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines’ (IPOPHL) part — signifying that it is going to be a long-drawn legal battle.
EB’s premiere vs TAPE’s launch
July 1979: EB’s premiere in July 1979 is considered common knowledge among entertainment circles. But while Antonio Tuviera conceptualized the show’s idea, it was launched under production company Production Specialists, Inc. — which was owned by sportscaster Dick Ildefonso and businessman Romeo Jalosjos.
Tito Sotto, in a tell-all interview with Nelson Canlas last April, pointed out that while Production Specialists might have funded the show, it was TVJ and Tuviera who conceptualized the show and saw it through amid tough times.
“In 1979, Production Specialists was owned by Romy Jalosjos. So they funded the initial ‘Eat Bulaga’ in RPN-9… Pagdating ng July 1980, wiped out ‘yun. Talong talo ng Channel 7, because Channel 7 [or] GMA had ‘Student Canteen.’ Hirap na hirap kami,” he said.
“Nagkabaon-baon sa utang. Naubos na ‘yung puhunan ng Production Specialists, nakabaon sa utang. Hindi lang du’n, pati du’n sa isa nilang programa which was PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). Sila nagpo-produce dati ng PBA,” he further said, as he opened up about the show being initially put on the brink of cancellation.
July 1981: “Eat Bulaga” eventually flourished in October 1980, nine months before TAPE Inc. was launched in July 1981.
“Tape Inc, has absolutely no right to celebrate 44 years. They existed only in 1981. They did not exist in 1979. EB ceased to be EB when TVJ left them,” Tito wrote on Twitter last July.
Despite this, EB’s current home was set up as a predecessor of Production Specialists, Inc., which closed down in 1980.
TVJ and TAPE Inc.’s conflicting claims
TVJ, Tuviera, and Jalosjos’ ties go way back, but the ongoing battle over the much-bandied trademark seemed to pull them apart just as it had bonded them together before. Now, both camps rely heavily on supposed “papers and history” to back their claims on the brand.
TVJ’s ‘history’: “I feel that we’re backed up by the history of ‘Eat Bulaga’ and the history of Philippine television from 1979. We’re also backed up by jurisprudence in the Philippines and even in the United States, which we would sometimes recall if we cannot find a similar case here,” Tito disclosed to Philippine Daily Inquirer last June.
TAPE’s ‘papers’: “Ito lang, simple. Ang legal stand namin, we have the papers to prove that we own Eat Bulaga! for 44 years. Dapat sila, nag-claim noon pa. Why now?” Jon Jalosjos, TAPE president and CEO told Philippine Entertainment Portal in an interview.
Despite the opposing parties, Tito claimed that even lawyers debated on who owns the trademark of “Eat Bulaga” since they “sadly, don’t really know what happened.
There’s a fine line, however, between trademark and copyright. According to IPOPHL, a trademark is a “word, a group of words, sign, symbol, logo or a combination thereof that identifies and differentiates the source of the goods or services of one entity from those of others.”
Copyright, on the other hand, is the “legal protection extended to the owner of the rights in an original work,” meaning that the owner has the right to claim “intellectual creation in the literary, scientific and artistic domain.”
‘Copyright, unfair competition suits’ vs TAPE’s ‘trademark’
July 12: The discussion between “Eat Bulaga’s” trademark and copyright enters the picture, after TVJ asked the Marikina Regional Trial Court to enjoin TAPE and GMA from using the name, logo and other devices in the revamped “Eat Bulaga” show.
TVJ’s complaint is rooted on the opposing camp’s alleged illegal use of the noontime show’s name, along with the accompanying music, logo, segments, and even the airing replay episodes prior to the premiere of the revamped noontime show.
“Given the plaintiffs are the creative force behind the Subject Show ‘Eat Bulaga,’ its elements, musical arrangements and segments, it follows that plaintiffs own the copyright over (a) the Subject Show Eat Bulaga, its elements and derivative works (such as jingle / music / varied logo designs) and its individual segments (such as Pinoy Henyo and Juan for All, All for Juan); and (b) the audiovisual recordings thereof,” a portion of their complaint read.
July 13: TAPE refused to back down, saying its rights as the trademark owner support their claim.
“It is not a copyright infringement. The Eat Bulaga name, the design of the name and the logo is a trademark and not subject of copyright,” TAPE’s legal counsel Maggie Abraham-Garduque stressed.
“TAPE has the registration of the tradename ‘Eat Bulaga’ so they cannot file infringement against the registered owner of the trademark,” she further noted. TVJ’s petition for cancellation of TAPE’s trademark of “Eat Bulaga” is still pending before the IPO’s Bureau of Legal Affairs, and “until such time that said petition is granted, the trademark Eat Bulaga and EB will be owned by TAPE Inc.,” the lawyer said.
TAPE’s successful renewal vs TVJ’s ‘ministerial’ defense
Aug. 5: TAPE Inc. declared its successful renewal of “Eat Bulaga’s” trademark for another 10 years, which is effective from June 14, 2023 to June 14, 2023, while sharing a copy of their certificate to the media.
Along with its supported elements include EB’s “colors” and translation of the term “bulaga” which means surprise.
Aug. 6: Tito alleged that he was barred by TAPE and GMA from testifying on TVJ’s application for EB’s copyright, where the production company claimed that he only submitted a plain affidavit, instead of a judicial affidavit (JA). He was supposedly “not excluded” during de Leon’s testimony.
Despite this, the Marikina RTC chose to “rather err on the side of allowing the parties to present their case… on the merits rather than technicalities.”
“Besides, plaintiff Vicente Sotto has already his joint affidavit which he could have used as his testimony in support of the plaintiffs’ WPI application were it not of the directive of the court to submit a JA instead for convenience purposes,” per its two-page order.
Aug. 7: TVJ’s camp insisted the IPOPHL’s recent move is a “mere ministerial act,” according to a statement sent to INQUIRER.net.
The veteran hosts claimed that the government agency as merely acting on TAPE’s application for renewal according based on its mandate, and has little bearing on the copyright case.
“Renewal of trademark registration is ministerial on the part of IPO Bureau of Trademarks, as long as the applicant submits a declaration of actual use and pays the fee. The renewal is without prejudice to the petition for cancellation which is pending sa Bureau of Legal Affairs ng IPO. Separate office siya,” TVJ’s lawyer Enrique dela Cruz Jr. said. EDV