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Sanctuary, Meatball's biggest fan in tug-of-war over rights

November 11, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • A battle over intellectual property rights has broken out between the sanctuary where the famed bear named Meatball now lives and the woman who brought him widespread attention.
A battle over intellectual property rights has broken… (Courtesy of Lions,…)

The San Diego County animal sanctuary that took in Meatball, the Glendale bear, now wants the woman who turned him into a social media darling, effectively saving his life, to sign away all legal claims to the bear’s name.

Meatball, who got his nickname after he was caught eating frozen Costco meatballs from a garage refrigerator in 2012, had two high-profile captures and relocations back into the Angeles National Forest. Per state policy, the bear would be killed by wildlife officials if they had to trap him a third time.

But then Sarah Aujero stepped in, branding Meatball on Twitter with @TheGlendaleBear and campaigning to relocate him to a permanent animal sanctuary.

The tactic worked. Fueled by aerial television news footage of Meatball strolling through a neighborhood north of Glendale, wildlife officials trapped the bear a third time.

The effort to save Meatball quickly grew into a full-fledged movement, complete with branded shirts, tote-bags and stickers that were sold to raise funds for his own enclosure at his new home in San Diego County called Lions, Tigers & Bears.

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The facility, in Alpine, east of San Diego, embraced the bear’s celebrity status in an effort to raise money for his new habitat.

But now the sanctuary where Meatball has been living for more than a year wants Aujero to sign a contract handing over full control of the Twitter account and all rights to the bear’s name, which the Glendale resident copyrighted before the bear was transported there in August 2012 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Attorneys for the sanctuary sent a “cease and desist” letter demanding that she stop tweeting as Meatball.

She declined, but told the sanctuary in an Oct. 31 email that it was free to use Meatball’s name for fundraising efforts.

Her refusal to sign got a tart response from Lions, Tigers & Bears: No longer would Aujero be allowed on the sanctuary’s property.

“I’ve done nothing but help them because they have the bear; and all of a sudden, they cut me out of the picture,” Aujero said. “I feel like I’m being bullied a little bit.”

In a statement, Lions, Tigers & Bears founder Bobbi Brink said after Aujero refused to relinquish trademark rights, attorneys for the sanctuary advised that they “ask her not [to] enter the property.”

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