Tag: trademark

When Cultural Inspiration Crosses The Line

By Nicole Rowlands

In late October, the Fashion Institute at Fordham Law School sponsored an event that addressed the issue of cultural appropriation (or rather, misappropriation) in the fashion industry. More specifically, the event advertisement asked the following: “When it comes to culture, the world’s closets are filled with borrowed and reimagined finery – but when does inspiration shade into cultural appropriation?  And at what point should counsel comment?” The discussion was held at the De Buck Gallery in Chelsea, which showcased exhibitions of Zevs, a popular street artist similar to the infamous Banksy.

The gallery was cozy, so capacity was limited. Only New York’s best dressed “fashion attorneys” and a few lucky law students attended. The reception welcomed the small crowd with an assortment of sweets and a spot of bubbly champagne.

After some chit-chat and a drink (or two), everyone sat down to listen to the speakers – Professor Susan Scafidi, Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham; Katrin Zimmermann, designer of Ex Ovo jewelry; and Katherine E. Lewis, Attorney Advisor for the Smithsonian Institute.

First to speak was Ms. Zimmermann who described her jewelry line as, “modern high-end ‘bridge’ jewelry sold in museums of modern art in the U.S. and worldwide.”  Ms. Zimmermann discussed the cultural inspiration she uses in her jewelry making. Perhaps most enticing was Ms. Zimmermann’s answer to the question, “When searching the world for inspiration, where do you draw the line?” She responded, “There shouldn’t be a line,” and clarified that there was a stark difference between “inspiration and misappropriation.”

Next up was Professor Scafidi, who examined the controversy surrounding cultural inspiration and the fashion industry, and offered examples of the extreme cultural misappropriation that we often see on runways and product lines. For instance, Matthew Williamson’s Summer 2008 Collection included two Ethiopian dresses that were so similar to Ethiopia’s traditional national dress that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to investigating the matter.  But nothing came of the case after Mr. Williamson issued a formal apology and an explanation that the appropriation came from a deep “admiration… for the traditional dress of the Ethiopian people.”

In November 2012, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show featured one of its models in a Native American-style headdress, leopard print underwear, and high heels. After the outfit was condemned by many as a display of ignorance toward tribal culture and history, Victoria’s Secret publicly apologized and assured the public that it would not include the outfit in the show’s television broadcast or in any marketing materials.

It wasn’t even a year earlier that Urban Outfitters was in the soup over the same kind of transgression. But that time, a public apology was not enough to save the company from harsh criticism — and even a lawsuit.



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Raising the White Flag to Genericide

By LASIS Staff

Our friend Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. reports that a co-founder of punk band Black Flag can’t stop ex-bandmates from performing as “Flag,” according to a ruling by U.S. district judge Dean Pragerson.

“Defendants have submitted evidence suggesting that even if Plaintiffs own the marks, they have allowed them to fall into generic use,” he wrote.

For more about “genericide,” the bête noir of every trademark owner. see this LASIS classic, which explains how a trademark can fall into general use.


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Stop the Presses — and Continue Tebowing

By Meghan Lalonde

After scoring touchdowns, then Denver Bronco Tim Tebow would drop to one knee, clenched fist to his forehead, in a moment of spiritual communion giving thanks to God. This became quite popular. (He hasn’t scored yet as a Jet, so we haven’t seen him do it this season). Celebrities did it. Other athletes did it. Two New York high school students were suspended because they wouldn’t stop doing it in crowded hallways.

And so Mr. Tebow applied for a trademark on “Tebowing” – not as a moneymaking scheme but so that it wouldn’t be misused. The trademark was just approved.

The Associated Press reported the story, opening with, “Dropping to a knee like Tim Tebow might cost you now.” Though it may have been intended as a joke (and we can’t be sure it was), it took on the mantle of truth, fast.  ESPN, the New York Post, Yahoo! Sports, and CBS Sports (in addition to just about every other national network) followed in the AP’s misguided footsteps.

Because the fact is, Tim Tebow didn’t trademark the gesture – he trademarked “Tebowing” – a word, and the variation – “TEBOWING.”



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LeBron James Heroin For Sale

By Jennifer Williams

NBA champion; NBA Final MVP; three-time NBA MVP; NBA Rookie of the Year; eight-time NBA All-Star. This is not a list of my fake accomplishments on NBA 2K13. No, these are actually the successes of a very real player, ex-Cleveland Cavaliers, current Miami Heat player, LeBron James.

Oh, there’s one more description I could have added: official face of a heroin brand that’s all the rage in Philadelphia.

Earlier this month, 19-year old drug dealer Marlon Guess was busted with 140 packets of heroin, all of which he’d sold to an undercover police officer for $750. Each little bag of heroin was branded with “LeBron James” and had a silhouette of King James himself.

Mr. Guess didn’t make apprehending him easy. There was a car chase, an accident, and then a chase on foot. But he was caught, and after being charged with felony narcotics trafficking was held on $250,000 bail.

While our suspicion is that Mr. Guess is likely to have bigger legal fish to fry, we wondered if his choice of brand for his product could add to his woes. And so we looked into the extra heat this drug dealer might face, for intellectual property reasons.



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Will Wella Wipe Out Willa?

By LASIS Staff

A New York Times article discusses a Connecticut girl, Willa Prunier, whose family expects to be on the hook for $750,000 in legal fees because Procter & Gamble, makers of Wella products, objects to Willa’s line of beauty of care products.  In court.

The story mentions a similar suit, still pending, involving Facebook suing Teachbook.  LASIS ran a story on that lawsuit last year with the headline, “Face it Facebook – Your Legal Argument is Lame”.

Can you tell whose side we’re on in the Wella v. Willa battle?

UPDATE:   October 14, 2011 –  Wella won’t wipe out Willa; they settled.



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