Kawhi Leonard sues
Nike over the copyright to a logo
June 4, 2019
On June 3, 2019, Kawhi Leonard, a professional basketball
player currently with the Toronto Raptors, sued Nike over
the rights to a logo.
Leonard contends he personally created the logo and owns the copyright to it,
but that in 2017, without his knowledge or consent, Nike filed an application
to register the copyright to this logo. From
October 2011 through September 30, 2018, Leonard was a sponsored athlete under
the Nike® brand. According to the lawsuit, he signed a standard “Men’s Pro
Basketball Contract” with Nike to be a sponsored athlete. Throughout the duration
of this relationship, Leonard endorsed Nike products and Nike used Kawhi’s name
and image to promote its products.
This is why the purported rights to the “Leonard Logo” are
Leonard’s lawsuit seeks to resolve who owns the copyright
and possible trademark rights in a logo he claims to have designed himself. The
interesting twist is that even if Kawhi created the logo by himself – that fact
alone does not resolve the dispute.
January 2, 2019
On Friday, December 28, 2018, Nirvana, LLC sued Marc Jacobs International, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nieman Marcus for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition, and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act. The crux of the dispute is over a new line of clothing being introduced by Marc Jacobs dubbed “Bootleg Redux Grunge” that he intends to sell to the public at Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus stores. In short, these “grunge” clothes are being marketed to a high-end socioeconomic demographic that is antithetical to everything Kurt Cobain and Nirvana stood for. Because of course they are.
The real dispute is over the appropriation of the iconic Nirvana “smiley face” logo and what Nirvana contends is a derivative, non-transformative use by Marc Jacobs. I will not go too in-depth on the specific claims other than to say: yes, this is an infringement and Marc Jacobs is most certainly trying to associate this clothing line with famous Nirvana trademarks and copyrighted works. It is shameless. Everyone involved should be embarrassed. Yes, including Nirvana’s own lawyers – for reasons I will address.
Of course, I am biased. Nirvana is my favorite musical group of all-time and hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time when I was 14 years old was nothing short of a life-changing experience. Like millions of others, I also own one of the famous “smiley face” t-shirts and other merchandise bearing that image. This is a blog about trademark and copyright law, meanwhile – so let us break down the claims made against Marc Jacobs.
On December 29, 2016, music group Run-DMC, an inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame™, filed a lawsuit against online retailer Amazon.com, big box store Wal-Mart, and a series of manufacturing entities and suppliers. Run-DMC claims to own a registered trademark, in addition to other intellectual property that the lawsuit asserts has generated over $100,000,000 since the 1980s. Run-DMC alleges that Amazon and Wal-Mart are liable for trademark infringement and trademark dilution. It seeks a permanent injunction and monetary damages of $50,000,000.
How did Amazon and Wal-Mart find themselves at the center of a high-profile trademark infringement action against one of the most iconic and influential musical groups of the modern era? Is this mere oversight or a concerted effort to trade on the goodwill of the RUN-DMC brand? Similarly, how is Amazon liable if it merely allowed a third-party entity to offer a product through its site?
Metallica has always had a love-hate relationship with its fans. Beginning with its controversial decision to film a music video for the first time for the anti-war song “One” and continuing with the shift from heavy metal thrash to more “commercial” rock songs on the Black Album, Metallica has routinely challenged the expectations of the public.
More famously, on April 13, 2000, Metallica inflamed the good nature of its fan base by suing Napster in federal court for copyright infringement, racketeering, and unlawful uses of digital devices, among other causes of action. As part of this lawsuit, Metallica identified over 300,000 individual users who allegedly copied and unlawfully acquired digital copies of Metallica’s songs through the Napster peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service. These users were “temporarily” banned as a result of Metallica’s investigation and lawsuit. Not surprisingly, Metallica faced a severe public backlash for attacking its purported fans through lawsuits and allegations of copyright infringement. It even inspired a classic South Park episode.
Metallica is accordingly well-known to be litigious. They will strongly enforce trademark rights and all of their copyrights, when necessary. This often does not sit well with music fans that view the band as entitled and out-of touch millionaires. This leads to the most recent unfavorable public relations snafu by Metallica.
On December 30, 2015, Metallica’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Canadian tribute band performing under the name “Sandman.” Why did Metallica go after a tribute band? How is this different from the Napster case?
[originally published on October 12, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]
Trademarks are everywhere. Everything from a well-known slogan by a shoe company, to a famous organizational logo, to the signature color scheme or uniform of a performer can be considered as a trademark. Trademarks can take many different shapes and forms, each of which may be protected by U.S. law. The key is what can (or should be) protected and what may be enforced as the intellectual property rights of an individual or entity. U.S. trademark law allows for a multitude of ways to express yourself or identify your product to the consuming public. In fact, the law encourages this!