This week in fashion law: WTForever21.com, the war on Gaga, and knockoff religious garb (believe it)
After doing LAW OF FASHION's first fashion law roundup last Friday, this writer decided the format sort of worked. The fashion website Styleite agreed, and will be publishing condensed versions of these weekly recaps in the form of a Friday column called "Catwalk Justice." (My apologies to any strippers whose name was inadvertently borrowed.) So without further ado, here are some of the more colorful fashion law stories that made headlines -- or tiny print at the bottom of obscure websites -- this week:
- In the most important fashion law dispute, well, ever, Rachel Kane of WTForever21 announced that she would resume blogging about Forever 21's "design disasters" despite the retailer's legally baseless threats about the blog's supposed trademark and copyright transgressions. Admittedly, this writer may not be completely objective here, as his firm is representing Rachel in the dispute; fortunately, the entire Internet appears to agree that Forever 21 has no ground to stand on. As far as what we lawyers call "doctrine," Rachel's use of Forever 21's website images to critique the company's fashion missteps is clearly fair use under copyright law; Forever 21's trademark claims are frivolous for reasons too numerous to mention. Plus, just as a matter of common sense, if consumers can't use company trademarks in their commentary, or reproduce images of a company's products in order to criticize them, it would be effectively impossible to express one's opinion on the activities of any corporation. On a side note, as more than one media outlet has observed, there is unmistakable irony in the attempted vindication of (bogus) intellectual property rights by a company that has been called "notorious for ripping off designs." By the way, if you get a threat from a big, scary corporation for your "gripe site," head here first; unfortunately, this situation is more common than one would hope.
- Despite the bone I had to pick with Lady Gaga in April, I'm starting to feel a bit sorry for the CFDA-declared "fashion icon," who has now been besieged by no fewer than three very public accusations of both tangible and intangible theft. With that said, as to the latest episode in the trilogy, LOF must take issue with Styleite writer Chloe Marmet's assertion that Gaga "almost had a right to" the Tumblr account "Amen Fashion" because "it was her song title, after all." As LOF explained in its dressing-down of the already barely-dressed Ke$ha last month for her ridiculous legal threats against the manufacturer of the iPod Nano accessory marketed as "Tik Tok," trademark claims based on song titles can be a very tough sell.
- Congress has been unusually focused on apparel industry issues recently. Three recent bills would create grants for research on innovation in textiles, facilitate apparel trade between the U.S. and the Philippines, and -- randomly -- curb the Department of Defense's textile purchases (for military uniforms, combat footwear, etc.) from Federal Prison Industries, a government-owned corporation staffed by prisoners, which fashion industry groups claim has taken too great a market share from the private sector.
- Speaking of the Philippines, that country's government made a very public showing this week of its commitment to anti-counterfeiting by destroying (with armored vehicle tires and knives) millions of dollars worth of counterfeit goods, including Louis Vuitton bags and Oakley sunglasses. The country has been trying to escape a U.S. list of intellectual property violators since at least 2006 -- so far, with limited success. Keep on keepin' on, mga kaibigan ko.
- Closer to home, Louis Vuitton and Burberry scored a highly publicized victory in a Canadian court this week against Vancouver- and Toronto-based fakeries (like bakeries, but cooking up counterfeit goods instead of snickerdoodles.) The judgment of $2.5 million (Canadian) in damages may be the largest award of its kind in Canadian legal history, according to Ashlee Froese, the Ontario-based fashion lawyer interviewed by LAW OF FASHION earlier this week.
- Finally, at opposite ends of the piety spectrum, Rihanna has been sued (again) for allegedly lifting copyrighted imagery to use in her music video for the song "S&M," while The General Council of the Assemblies of God was awarded over $6 million in its suit against a website selling knockoff religious garb that infringed the trademark rights of the Pentecostal Christian Ministry. For those still tethered to their desks so painfullly close to the now-imminent long weekend, you can read up on the legal issues in the Rihanna music video dispute here (from the first time around); as for the church lawsuit, I'm just going to say res ipsa loquitur -- "the thing speaks for itself." At least, that's my final word on the subject for now, since my zipcar isn't going to drive itself out of the city. Happy holiday weekend!
[This post is for entertainment and informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship among any individuals or entities. Any views expressed herein are those of the writer on the particular date of this post, and should not necessarily be attributed to his law firm or its clients.]