Cinestill 800T Trademark Controversy

NEWS: The Battle Over 800T – Straight Answers on the CineStill Trademark Story

On October 9, 2023, Boston-based all analogue store CatLabs published a blog article titled, “We got SUED by Cinestill :(”. CatLabs shared an image of the first page of a redacted letter from Cinestill attorney, Jonathan Kirsch, with the subject line “Re: Trademark Infringement and Unfair Competition – CineStill, Inc. v CatLabs of JP”. The letter is titled as a “Demand to Cease and Desist and Demand for Preservation of Evidence” and is dated May 15, 2023.

The letter states that CineStill is the exclusive rights owner for the registered word mark “800T” and a common-law word mark “800TUNGSTEN”. You can view the image of the first page of the letter on CatLabs blog here. The rest of the letter was not shared so we have no further information on what it continued to say. In the blog post however, CatLabs shares that they received communication from CineStill which referenced the “Reflx Lab 800 Tungsten” film as the infringing item, which CatLabs had started to stock in their store. Read the complete post by Catlabs here.

“When we asked what product we sell that is causing all this turmoil (as Cinestill was being very vague and never actually said it at first), they linked to the Reflx Labs 800 film which we started offering just a few days prior.” – CatLabs

Screenshot from CatLabs blog post titled " We got Sued by Cinestill :("
Screenshot from CatLabs blog post titled ” We got Sued by Cinestill :(“

CatLabs says that they are not the only business that has received similar trademark infringement communication from CineStill. In a separate Reddit post linked here, the author “ReachIntelligent519” published their experience of being a film seller on eBay, Etsy, and Shopify and receiving rights violation complaints reported by CineStill over an item sold in their online shops, “Reflx Lab 800T” (as it was called prior per the author) (1). In another post, the same author mentions in May 2023, their eBay listing for this product was suspended. Read the full post here.

The poster says Reflx Lab then changed the name and packaging and resold the item as “800 Tungsten”, after which the author relisted this item in their shop. Yet, in early October 2023, the author received a second and “final ” eBay warning notice as another report had been filed by CineStill. The author mentions later in the post they heard from Reflx Lab that CineStill contacted their dealers and stockists in the US listed on their website, sending them similar warnings as well.

“It was a scary experience. For one, I don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer. And, my conscience told me that I had wronged CineStill, and as someone that also sells CineStill products, it would have been professional for them to have contacted me and I would have promptly addressed the issue of infringement without going to the extremes and contacting every platform I was on. As I learned later on, CineStill sent a legal email to all of Reflx Lab resellers in the US. I thought the issue was resolved once the listings were suspended. Reflx rebranded the product and in June 2023, I relisted the product.” – “ReachIntelligent519”

CineStill shared with us their side of this interaction which they say was a misunderstanding between them and the small business owner that posted their concerns on Reddit.

“What started as a misunderstanding between CineStill and one other small business owner who was understandably overwhelmed by the complexities of trademark law, led him to seek legal advice on the Reddit platform. This gave an opportunity for some other competing businesses to take advantage of the confusion and target us with fabrications to damage our business and reputation. This only magnified the initial confusion and turned it into outrage on Reddit due to misunderstanding of trademark law, lack of knowledge of our manufacturing capabilities, and general miscommunication.” – CineStill

CineStill states there is no lawsuit involving them or anyone else. They also would like to clarify that they are not aiming to prevent competition, rather protect the usage of their US registered trademarks for “CINESTILL” and “800T” which extends to the common law word mark “800Tungsten”.

“Our legal counsel informed us that we must do the minimum required to protect our trademarks or they will eventually lose their distinctiveness as source identifiers.”- CineStill

The team says they sent courtesy notices via email initially to apparent infringers to address the usage of the trademark. From there, one of the sellers (CatLabs) emailed referred CineStill to their lawyers. Cinestill says CatLab’s lawyers then requested a formal Cease and Desist letter to be sent from CineStill’s legal counsel. CineStill would like to clarify that a Cease and Desist letter is not legally binding.

“We are extremely disappointed to see it reach this point. We care a lot about this community and we’re a team of just over a dozen people — so when people say “we’re trying to hurt small businesses” we really take that to heart, as we are also a very small business full of people that are super passionate about this community and the analog medium.”- CineStill

To clarify what a Cease and Desist letter means in the US, we referenced this description from Cornell University Law School:

“A cease and desist letter is a cautionary letter sent to an alleged wrongdoer describing the alleged misconduct and demanding that the alleged misconduct be stopped. A cease and desist letter provides notice that legal action may and will be taken if the conduct in question continues. Such letters are usually written by attorneys and are often sent to stop alleged or actual infringement of intellectual property rights, such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents. A cease-and-desist letter may also be used to warn the wrongdoer against harassment, slander, libel, as well as contractual violations. Even though a cease-and-desist letter is a non-binding letter and does not have a legal effect, it is primarily sent to the wrongdoer so that it may later be used as evidence in litigation against the wrongdoer if the alleged misconduct is not stopped.” – Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School

CatLabs mentions they have not heard back from CineStill after they say their lawyer told them to “get lost” after receiving the Cease and Desist letter.

“Naturally, our lawyer told them to get lost and warned them that this action, of interfering with another company’s business is grounds of legal action against them. Thankfully, we never heard back.” – CatLabs

CineStill says most of the businesses they contacted were responsive and adapted their listings with the team’s help to avoid infringing on the trademarks.

“The purpose of these courtesy notices was to request that product sources be clearly distinguished and to suggest alternative identifiers and descriptors to avoid confusion for consumers and to inform the recipient of CineStill’s active trademarks. The intention was not to attack, intimidate, or initiate legal action against anyone — we have no interest in getting into lawsuits. This was driven by a desire to protect our brand, promote fair competition, and provide clarity in the market.”- CineStill

CineStill has a public Trademark Policy on their website. Here, they lay out their policy on trademarks and identify the ones they have registered. They have also listed what might constitute an infringement and what might otherwise be acceptable. Read more about this here.

“By reason of their continuous and exclusive use in interstate commerce, since at least as early as July 16, 2013, the marks have acquired secondary meaning in the market for photographic film. The valuable goodwill and reputation in the marks have accrued exclusively to CineStill over a decade of use. Additionally, registration of 800TUNGSTEN™ is not necessary since whenever 800TUNGSTEN is used, the 800T® word mark is entirely contained within 800TUNGSTEN™.” – CineStill Trademark Policy

Reflx Lab has declined comment as advised by their lawyer. We can see though that their 800T or 800Tungsten listing on their website has now been changed to “Reflx Lab 800”. While they mentioned their US eBay listings have been removed, the products remain for sale on their website which is governed under the laws of China and from which, US customers are able to order. Find more information about Reflx Lab here.

Screenshot of Reflx Lab Website - 800 Film Product
Screenshot of Reflx Lab Website – 800 Film Product

CineStill commented, “Until recently, Reflx Lab 800 was marketed as 800T or 800Tungsten film. After reaching out to them directly, and to resellers that carried their product, the film’s name was changed to Reflx Lab 800 and the listings online and the displays in film shops. Our issue is not with other “800-speed tungsten balanced” films existing. We have no ill-intent towards others providing more film to more photographers. Those films that exist just cannot use trademarks we established to unfairly market their products.”

Note: The author of this news post has made their best attempt to present a balanced view of the situation by stating available information provided by both sides to the author in a straightforward manner with no personal view or bias towards it. It’s important to give each view of the situation a fair hearing as there are always two sides to a story. Conclusions are yours to draw from the information presented. It’s also recommended to read each piece of available information in full and consider the evidence presented before forming conclusions.

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24 thoughts on “NEWS: The Battle Over 800T – Straight Answers on the CineStill Trademark Story”

  1. This seems a lot like CineStill digging themselves a hole.
    I can understand them trying to discourage passing-off, but I don’t think running together the ISO rating of a film and the initial of its colour balance really amounts to intellectual property. The stuff about ‘no lawsuit’ would seem to indicate that they were just trying to intimidate smaller companies, which still doesn’t play well. I have no doubt that Reflx are delighted at all the free publicity they are getting.
    I guess shooting yourself in the foot is embarrassing enough, but continuing to pull the trigger…?.
    For CineStill to complain about someone appending T to the ISO number of the film seems a little rich given that they seem to have derived the ‘trademark’ name from a Kodak Cinema film product (500T) that both of these films is based upon…

  2. I can see that aspects of this reaction have gotten out of hand and I’m not sure what’s up with Catlabs claiming they’d been sued. But as far as I’m concerned, CineStill is worth boycotting for having even sought to trademark common terms and specifications that long predate the existence of their company. The use of ISO and ‘T’ to designate tungsten balanced have existed for a very long time. Also, this bit from their trademark policy is also horrifying: “…Therefore “CINE” has acquired secondary meaning in the photography market (in addition to its use as an abbreviated version of “Cinema” for smaller motion picture formats) as a nickname for CineStill films, and has become distinctive through CineStill’s substantially exclusive and continuous use in commerce.” They’re carving out aspects of film culture and claim ownership of them in such a way that commercial entities will need to police what had been entirely normal language. I don’t like that. CineStill’s business model is replicable by others, so they’ve become defensive and have embraced an anti-competitive stance. This was always going to happen and the better response is to move into areas that aren’t so easy to replicate. I’ve been in business for over 20 years. There are the “zero sum people” and the “float all boats people.” I like doing business with the latter and only suffer the former if I have no other choice. Fortunately, there are other options and I don’t care much for glowing, red neon signs anyway.

  3. US Trademark law is a complicated beast. But it does seem a little odd that what we are seeing is that Cinestill has sent Cease & Desist notices (not quite a lawsuit) to the (US resellers of the Reflx lab product with the contentious name, but standard practice is to go directly to the source of the name conflict — in this case Reflx Labs — and use legal means to protect any Cinestill trademarked naming and try to force Reflx Labs to rename their product. But it looks like Reflx Labs is actually a Japanese parent company and now we’re talking international enforcement of a US Trademark — which can become complex and expensive very quickly. So did Cinestill take the ‘cheaper’ way out and threaten the (US) resellers, hoping that they would then shift that pressure back to Reflx Labs and Reflx Labs — seeing that it could no longer sell this product through US resellers, would cave and rename the product? All saving Cinestill (legal) time and money — but putting the US resellers through hell in the process???? If so — all that I can say for Cinestill is ‘bad form!’ (to quote Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook)….

  4. You can’t trademark 800T – it’s idiotic. Kodak doesn’t trademark 250D, or 500T. If this was just protecting “Cinestill”, they’d have a point, but it’s not, so they don’t. Perhaps if Cinestill actually manufactured / created the emulsion, then they could claim 800T, but they don’t so they can’t. The only thing they can do is Trademark Cinestill, and then compete on quality and price. Even then, if/when Kodak decides they want to release an 800T film, Cinestill could go “poof” and cease to exist. Reflx labs and Catlabs will get my business. Cinestill should have used common sense and a PR consultant here, not lawyers, and certainly not tried to claim “800T”.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this and pulling together the sources Molly, I think this article is very well balanced and has helped me to understand the situation. My own conclusion is that it seems to have been an administrative action that has been blown out of proportion by some vendors and some online commentators. It appears to me that CineStill has built their business transparently and professionally, including registering trademarks for their products – I don’t see anything wrong with that, and a court of law has already granted license to them for those trademarks. I’m happy to read the measured and sensible responses from CineStill in their statements, and I personally do not see a need for me to ‘boycott’ their products on ethical grounds. Of course, everyone will have their own ‘line in the sand’ and are free to do as they wish!

    1. Thanks Ted for the very chilled comment! The thing that seems to get folks heated is whether or not they should have been able to trademark it, and perhaps what Cinestill saw as an administrative necessity for their business (protecting their trademark in the US), others saw as harsh and going after other people. I can’t really take sides or have concluding thoughts either way unless I see more evidence of how both sides have acted. There’s not enough where I could draw a personal conclusion on the matter, other than maybe not sure if 800T is something that should be trademarked or not.

  6. I really appreciate Molly’s efforts to share both sides of the story and not show any bias. That being said, this makes Cinestill look really bad. I understand trying to protect intellectual property, but as others have said, Cinestill turned a product’s description into its name and trademarked it. It would be like Apple calling the iPad the “Apple Tablet” and then threatening anyone else who also sold tablet computers with the word tablet in the name. A lot of the blame here goes to the US Patent and Trade office for allowing the trademark in the first place, but they already have a history of being too lenient with registrations.
    The other thing that bothers me is that they are going after retailers instead of Reflx Labs itself. Like the article mentioned a lot of these are small businesses and who can’t afford to defend themselves and many also sell Cinestill products as well. I suppose this could be due to Reflx Labs being located in China, but either way it’s a douchy move.

    Lastly, I’m offended that Cinestill had the guts to refer to these cease and desist letters as “courtesy notices”. A true courtesy notice would have been what the man in the article mentioned, a letter asking businesses to address it. Instead Cinestill chose violence.

    1. Thanks Lance 🙂 The courtesy notices CineStill sent out, I believe were emails or messages, and then the cease and desist came later, after CatLabs lawyers got involved. So at least there, they say they did reach out without legal initially. Not a defense for their side, more just to clarify the timeline there. And they did “go after” Reflx Lab in the US specifically as Reflx Lab said they had to remove their eBay listings. Again, just what both sides have said. We haven’t seen any email or message evidence or claim submissions to eBay or stuff like that, to keep that framed/in mind.

  7. Hmmm… I wonder, what the Terminator would do about this law suit. Wasn’t it also called the model T800?
    But seriously, incredible BS on CineStills part. Bit like, if I registered the letter “e”, and sued everybody for using it.
    Selling film today is still a niche market somewhat, so it will be a small wonder if this isn’t going to hurt CineStills sales.

  8. Cinestill could have just reached out. As for me? I’ve stopped using their film seeing they seem to be unable to package it w/o light leaks. When I first used 800T when it first came out I didn’t have these issues.

    1. Thanks Huss, yeah I don’t remember any light leak issues when it first came out but I haven’t shot CineStill since then, mostly because of the cost, but curious about your experience with the leaks, is it every roll or just now and then? and how many would you say out of the total that you’ve shot have them?

  9. Echoing others, huge thanks to you Molly for aggregating all this information. I’ve only seen bits and pieces throughout the week.

    I’m a relatively new film shooter (only about 4 years) and all this time I genuinely thought the ISO+WB Identifier (800T, 50D, etc.) was a standard naming convention in the film community. It’s incredibly convenient to be able to look at a film name, know the manufacturer, film speed, and white balance. Having to remember which manufacturers’ offerings come in which white balance adds a level of complexity and understanding that can be intimidating to newer film shooters who are still trying to figure out the chemistry reactions to light. Heck, I’d even like to see the smaller labs repackaging the older Aerocolor type films add the “A” to the end so we know its color palette as well (such as Flic Film “100A” for their Elektra 100). To me its just a standard that makes sense. But as with every industry, standards are only good if everyone buys into it and uses it. I recognize there are lines of emulsions that have their own, non-standard profile like Porta, but these are proprietary to the manufacturers that haven’t been reproduced elsewhere like the cinema-style films have been.


    That’s just my one-beer’s worth.

    1. It is a standard naming convention, that’s the problem! (at least for certain films). They’re pretending something is theirs when it isn’t.

    2. Thanks Charlie! There’s more that went around but wanted to get the basics lined out in a non-biased manner, some bits and pieces can easily be taken out of context, especially on social media and it’s hard to know what the facts/truth is sometimes. Each side will represent the story differently so hopefully but providing both it balances it a bit more.

  10. I work in insurance and I see legal letters, notices of suits and actual suit papers. The way the Catlabs letter is written with “Cinestill v. Catlabs”, “confidential and privileged”, and demand to preserve evidence is clearly intended to spoke a lay person. They, or atleast their attorney, intended to intimidate the recipient into complying without actually moving to a suit. They know if they did they’d lose the precious trademark which is overreaching and never should have been granted in the first place. I can understand their desire to protect their product and how concerned they must be about new competitors gaining traction but bullying resellers much smaller than them is not ok. What’s worse is they are actively misrepresenting legitimate criticism of their behavior. They’re gaslighting their customers and treating us like idiots. I used to see Reflx and other competitors as bootleg Cinestill but now they seem more legit of a brand than Cinestill now.

    On a side note, Molly you did great job maintaining journalistic objectivism unlike Petapixel which just wrote what Cinestill told them and only made things worse.

  11. Seems like a serious misuse of trademark laws and a lot of ignorance on the part of whomever granted Cinestill a trademark in the first place! How can a company that DOESN’T EVEN MANUFACTURE THE FILM copyright the use of words/letters commonly used to describe color balance and speed? If Kodak released a new-generation film that was a native tungsten-balanced ASA800 film, would Cinestill send them a cease & desist for calling it Portra 800T? This whole situation is ridiculous.

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