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
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.
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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