Celebrities sometimes find themselves at the center of trademark infringement lawsuits as their creativity can infringe on others’ trademarked goods or services.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is something that identifies and distinguishes goods or services. This can include a word, phrase, symbol, design, or some combination of these things. Having a trademark, however, does not mean you own the trademarked “thing” and can prevent others from using it. Instead, a trademark prevents others, particularly competitors, from using the trademark in relation to similar goods or services which may confuse consumers.
Trademark infringement is the unauthorized use of a trademark in connection with competing or related goods or services which is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake regarding the source of the goods or services. A trademark owner that believes his or her mark is being infringed upon may bring legal action and, if successful, may be awarded money.
Kanye West and Trademark Infringement.
In 2015, a bachata duo named “Loisaidas,” sued Kanye West and Damon “Dame” Dash for infringing on the band’s name in a film created by West and Dash. The film was comprised of eight short episodes and told the story of a turf war set in the Lower East Side of New York City. The film referenced the term “Loisaidas,” a Spanish slang that refers to New York’s Lower East Siders, multiple times. The bachata duo’s attorney argued that the term “Loisaida” was “urban vernacular” and okay to use in the singular; but, the plural “Loisaidas” infringed on the duo’s band name, which had previously been registered as a trademark. The duo argued that the use of the term confused consumers as to who was responsible for the film.
Ultimately, a New York federal judge found in favor of West and Dash and dismissed the case. The judge found the term “Loisaidas” had artistic relevance and that the duo failed to allege that West’s and Dash’s use of the term mislead the public to believe the duo band produced the film.
Taylor Swift and Trademark Infringement.
In 2014, a US clothing company Blue Sphere, doing business as Lucky 13, brought a lawsuit against Taylor Swift, accusing her of infringing on its “Lucky 13” trademark after she branded and marketed her own products with the phrase. Swift used the trademarked phrase and the company’s iconic shamrock on t-shirts she produced and sold, in addition to greeting cards she partnered with American Greetings Corp. to create and market. Blue Sphere alleged that the singer’s use of “Lucky 13”, among other things, caused a likelihood of consumer confusion and tarnished the quality and goodwill of its products. Swift responded to the lawsuit by claiming she had no knowledge of the t-shirt with the trademarked phrase. Lucky 13’s attorneys, however, rebutted this argument aggressively.
After 18 months, the clothing brand and singer reached a settlement agreement. The terms of this agreement are confidential, but ultimately allowed Swift to avoid trial. This legal battle is believed to have caused Swift and her team to trademark a variety of phrases and lyrics so she could legally produce and sell merchandise on her 1989 Tour.
Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Trademark Infringement.
In 2015, Island Company, LLC sued the Jenner sisters for trademark infringement on the trademarked phrase “Quit Your Job, Buy A Ticket, Get A Tan, Fall In Love, Never Return.” Island alleged that sisters’ use of “Run Away, Fall in Love, Never Return” on items in a clothing line produced and sold by PacSun would likely cause consumer confusion as to whether the products were affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by Island Company. Island further alleged that the sisters had made, and would continue to make, substantial profits from those items to which they were not legally entitled.
Island Company sought for the sisters to remove the trademarked logo from their clothing line and permanently stop using it in future clothing lines. The case was ultimately settled in January 2016, and the shirts at issue are no longer available for sale in PacSun stores.