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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Burlesque Troupe Sues Over Use of Name

KITTY KITTY BANG BANG It's a Kitty Kitty cat fight. Stacey L. Breakall of Austin, a burlesque dancer whose dance troupe does business under the name Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, is suing Abigail P. Munn, of San Francisco, for stealing her business name. Munn, you see, runs a dance troupe also called Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.

In the suit filed here in U.S. District Court, Austin's Miss Bang Bang, if I can call her that, accuses the San Francisco Miss Bang Bang of trademark infringement, use of a counterfeit mark, cybersquatting and unfair competition. Breakall's burlesque retro-naughty dance troupe has been putting on live dance performances in Austin and other places since 2002. She has trademarked the name of her business. Apparently her troupe puts on quite a show.

"If pulchritude were handwriting, these babes would dot your eyes and cross your tease for good," a review in The Austin Chronicle said. The Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Web site explains that the dancers, Legs Cadillac, Bi-Bi la Boop and Tijuana Trixie (that would be Breakall) among them, are a "bunch of tough hussies" who "head straight to town for a night of sin, gin, and tassel twirlin'."

The tassels hit the fan when Breakall discovered that Munn of San Francisco is operating a similar business under the Kitty Kitty Bang Bang name out in California, and has a similar Web site using the name. This, the suit claims, has caused confusion.

The suit says that in the summer of 2006, a member of Breakall's striptease and Texas burlesque dance company got an e-mail from a San Francisco photojournalist congratulating Kitty Kitty Bang Bang for being voted "Best Burlesque Act" in a San Francisco Bay area publication.

Turns out the photojournalist had the wrong Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.

The suit asks for damages of up to

$1 million for each use of the Kitty Kitty Bang Bang mark in connection with sales and services.

"We got wind of these folks in San Francisco doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same name," said Randolph B. Houston Jr., the Austin attorney representing Breakall and Kitty Kitty Bang Bang. "That's sort of the quintessential trademark lawsuit."

Meanwhile, Munn, out in San Francisco, says she doesn't want to fight. "I'm from California and I'm a little bit of a hippie," she said. She added she's going to change the name of her company to San Francisco Kitty Kitty Bang Bang in hopes that will settle the matter.

"If I had known there was another Kitty Kitty Bang Bang out there I would have picked a different name and avoided all this drama down the road," she said. "I'm not trying to copy anybody."

However, over at Austin's Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, they don't buy it. "She knew, because we've sent her cease and desist orders," said Emily Cropper, whose dances as Belladonna Nightshade. You can't make this stuff up.

Munn says her business started up in 2002 as well and she's not sure who really came first. "It's the chicken versus the egg," she said.

You'd think the great American West would be big enough for two Kitty Kitty Bang Bangs, but maybe not. I asked attorney Houston if he would be willing to settle this matter by having an online video Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Off, with both troupes performing and the public voting on which one is Kitty Kitty Bang Banging better.

"No, I don't think we'd be interested in that," he said. "We've built up too much good will to turn it into an 'American Idol' burlesque type thing."

By John Kelso

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