Isn’t the point of a parody to be funny? “Weird Al” Yanovich is well known for his music that makes fun of popular artists/music, such as Amish Paradise, a parody of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, and Eat It, a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Weird Al is so well known that his successful fair use defense of copyright litigation has become a leading case on musical parody.
Fast forward to Louis Vuitton (“LV”), the Paris based luxury hand bag brand company. Consumers world wide know the LV brand and the status behind “Having a Louis”. LV claimed copyright and trademark infringement by My Other Bag (“MOB”), a California based entity. In a recent decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of MOB.
MOB created a series of handbags where one side of the bag had a similar pattern of famous handbag company brands and the other side said “My Other Bag”. In this case, MOB imitated LV’s interlocking L and V letters with interlocking M, O, and B letters. Needless to say LV did not appreciate the similarity of the style and design of its famous mark.
With respect to likelihood of confusion with LV’s brands, the court noted differences between LV and MOB’s design, lack of market proximity, and lack of actual confusion. From a dilution standpoint, the court said MOB’s bags are a parody of LV’s bags, bringing them within the fair use exclusion of trademark dilution. The critical point was that MOB was not using LV’s brands solely to increase their own sales by confusing consumers that MOB’s bags are associated with LV’s bags. To the contrary, MOB was using LV’s well known brand and images as a parody because it was clear MOB was not trying to pass off their bags as LV produced bags. Consumers would know they were buying a MOB bag, not a LV bag.
While a trademark owner has obligations to police their brand, trademark owners should carefully weigh all factors before bringing suit. In this case, the parody fair use defense was strong for MOB, along with other factors. More importantly, LV helped market MOB’s products by instituting this action and bringing more attention to the alleged infringement. Now, “My Other Bag”, with the help of LV, has gained notoriety in the hand bag industry. But they have a far way to go to compete with Weird Al.
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