Sanctuary and Meatball’s biggest fan tiff over bear’s copyrighted name

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ALPINE, Calif. — An Alpine animal sanctuary that took in a California black bear that was caught wandering through Glendale is in a fierce battle for the legal rights to his name, going up against a woman who used social media to help save the 400-pound “Meatball” from death.

meatballLions Tigers & Bears took in Meatball in August 2012, after he was captured for the third time roaming in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles County. The two previous times, the bear was tranquilized and taken back into the Angeles National Forest.

The name “Meatball” was given to the bear by Sarah Aujero, who campaigned on Twitter with @TheGlendaleBear to have the bear taken to an animal sanctuary in lieu of euthanization. The name was generated because the bear was caught eating frozen Costco meatballs from a garage freezer during one of his residential roams.

The state Department of Fish and Game eventually agreed to have Meatball sent to the Alpine sanctuary.

Aujero later copyrighted the name and planned to write a children’s book about the bear, with half of the proceeds going toward its care at Lions Tigers & Bears, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But now the Glendale News-Press reports that Lions Tigers & Bears officials want Aujero to sign over control of the @TheGlendaleBear account and all rights to the bear’s name. Sanctuary officials said a donor of theirs already wrote a children’s book about the bear and is willing to donate 100 percent of the proceeds, The Times reported.

The Times reported that attorneys for the sanctuary sent a “cease and desist” letter to Aujero demanding that she stop Tweeting under the @TheGlendaleBear handle, but she declined and instead gave the sanctuary permission to use Meatball’s name in fundraising efforts. In response, sanctuary officials banned Aujero from Lions Tigers & Bear’s property, the newspaper reported.

However, a spokeswoman for LTB said the woman was only uninvited to one event, not banned entirely from the property.

LTB founder Bobbi Brink also insisted that the sanctuary never “used force against Aujero” to get her to give up full control of the Twitter account.

“Aujero was presented documents asking she relinquish the rights to the name `Meatball the Glendale Bear,’ of which Aujero has gone forth and trademarked without the prior knowledge of LTB,” Brink said.

“Aujero wanted to write a book about Meatball the bear, but learned a close friend of LTB already wrote a children’s book about habituated bears, using Meatball as the protagonist character of the story and the book was already in the process of being published,” Brink said. “Aujero then threatened LTB with legal action, using her trademarked name as leverage against our sanctuary.”

Meatball was originally slated to go to a sanctuary in Colorado but state law prevented an animal removed from the wild from being placed there. Though Lions Tigers & Bears welcomed Meatball permanently, officials said a new habitat would have to be built to house him long-term, thus starting the fundraising effort.

The price has risen from $250,000 to $350,000, and officials are about $80,000 short, according to The Times, which reported some of the funds raised so far have come from Aujero, who launched a range a bear merchandise, often using her own money to bridge the gap between expenditures and donations.

“I don’t make money off the bear,” she told the newspaper, adding all that she wanted from sanctuary officials was for them to let her continue helping the bear that she helped save.

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