CineStill has been embroiled in a massive controversy due to a combination of how the company has elected to defend its trademarks — trademarks that many in the analog community do not believe CineStill should have been granted — and how CineStill’s actions have been interpreted, or in at least one case, fabricated.
PetaPixel’s coverage of the CineStill situation has its fair share of detractors and most online discourse surrounding CineStill has been critical toward the analog photography-oriented store, with some photographers launching boycott campaigns against CineStill and select retailers electing to stop carrying CineStill products altogether.
While the reasons for the backlash toward CineStill are complex, few in the small but passionate film community would have been shocked to see CineStill decide to change course and take a different approach to its polarizing trademark ownership and defense strategies. However, CineStill has instead opted to double down.
In an updated statement on CineStill’s trademark policy page, the beleaguered company has taken a public stance that mirrors much of what PetaPixel found in the course of its investigation, including that any allegations that CineStill has initiated any litigation or legal action against CatLABS or any other small businesses is “unequivocally” untrue.
CineStill continues, explaining that despite this fact, there is still considerable disagreement about the company’s behavior concerning its trademarks and how it has defended them.
“Since another manufacturer abandoned the trademark in 2004, use of ‘800T’ as a brand identifier was unique in the photographic market at the time, and we started using it to market our film in 2013,” the company writes of CineStill 800T film.
“In the years following the commercial launch of CineStill’s 800T brand, several other businesses around the world were inspired to try to replicate something similar, by simply washing off the remjet layer from existing motion picture film stocks prior to exposure, with varying unsuccessful results,” CineStill says, explaining that correctly removing the remjet layer from motion picture film is “very difficult” and that the company has spent considerable effort to ensure that the 800T film it sells is up to its standards.
“Unfortunately, similar products released by other companies at that time were substantially inferior in quality to CineStill’s, and eventually each of these products were discontinued by the companies making them. There was also an unfortunate negative effect on our reputation and the perceived quality of our film, based on negative experiences from users and labs with these other films and how they were marketed as similar to CineStill’s films,” claims CineStill.
The next section of CineStill’s trademark policy is going to be an especially contentious one based on how the situation has thus far unfolded. It is included below in full.
It took many years of positive user experience, educating the market, and highly refined quality control practices to overcome negative perceptions and differentiate CineStill’s 800T brand from its early competitors as a high quality, reliable film product. And after at least five years (now, over a decade) of substantially exclusive and continuous use in the industry, the term “800T” had become uniquely associated with our brand, characteristics, and quality. “800T” went beyond just being suggestive, and took on a legal secondary meaning. If you were to ask someone about “800T” film or “800Tungsten” film, it was understood that you were talking about CineStill’s film, not any other still film product; and definitely not the much older product for the motion picture industry, that had been long discontinued and whose 800T trademark had been abandoned. Our film wasn’t even based on the discontinued one.
Our concerns were that the usage of “800T” to identify other products would lead to confusion for the consumer, which is the basic definition of actionable trademark infringement; with dissatisfied consumers (justifiably but incorrectly) leveraging complaints about “800T” and wrongly associate them with CineStill’s 800T film. Similarly, if a lab were to accept a roll of 800T film from another manufacturer who hadn’t properly removed the remjet from motion picture film (causing damage to their processing machines), processing becomes less accessible to the greater community and damages CineStill’s reputation and business.
CineStill consulted with a trademark lawyer in 2020 and registered its company name and the name of its flagship product, CineStill 800T film.
“Registering and publishing the word marks ‘CineStill’ and ‘800T’ was not done to stifle competition, but rather to inform others looking for unique identifiers to avoid interruption in bringing their product to market…Being years removed from a ‘merely descriptive’ usage, while being wholly exclusive to a singular product, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered CINESTILL and 800T as trademarks of CineStill, Inc.,” the company adds.
Like the excerpt above, this section of the updated trademark policy is unlikely to win over many detractors.
CineStill maintains that any disputes concerning products that infringe upon the company’s trademarks have been resolved “without legal action” and that “Contrary to claims, CineStill has not yet sued a single company.”
The company also says, “For those we contacted, we haven’t heard from any of them since they corrected the confusingly similar product names and web listings, and/or agreed to sell-off periods. We honestly thought any issues were settled through compromise a while ago.”
In recent weeks, some individual sellers and other small retailers have said they felt attacked, threatened, or intimidated by CineStill. In cases where CineStill’s self-described “courtesy notices” intimidated anybody, CineStill says it “apologizes” and did not intend for anyone to feel threatened.
As for what counts as intimidation, that is up to the individual. It is clear that despite its stated intentions, CineStill’s trademark defense strategy has ruffled feathers and resulted in many in the analog community feeling uncomfortable and upset.
For anyone expecting CineStill to relinquish its controversial trademarks outright or stop defending them, the company remains very clear — it will continue to protect itself against infringing products and product descriptions.
“Keep shooting film. It doesn’t even need to just be our film. Any film. This is a medium that we truly love — that’s why we started the company. That’s why we’ll keep working to make film and film products more available and more accessible for beginners, experts, professionals, and everyone in between,” says CineStill. Despite some claims to the contrary, 800 ISO tungsten-balanced film other than CineStill remain on the market. For photographers who want 800T alternatives, they are available.
“We hope that this statement provides some context to our decision to register CINESTILL and 800T as trademarks. We understand and respect any differences of opinion that people may still have. We will continue to work every day to channel our efforts into helping demystify the modern analog photography workflow. We strive to foster a supportive and diverse community where photographers can connect, share, and learn from one another. As always, we are here for the community and are eternally excited to share what’s next,” the company concludes.
CineStill’s complete statement is available on the company’s website.