Louis Vuitton Takes a Loss

We’ve spoken about large fashion retailers, both in fast-fashion and high end industries, claiming copyright infringements from no-name counterfeit products. Most of the time, whether it be due to poor or minimal funding for legal representation on the end of the alleged counterfeit brand, or the clearly obvious infringement as presented by the well-known retailer, the bigger and more influential brands are likely to be successful in claiming copyright infringement.

This was not the case for Louis Vuitton, however.

Just at the end of last year, the French luxury handbag company had difficulties convincing the courts that a California tote-bag company that parodies fancy designer handbags is violating copyright law.

On December 22, Louis Vuitton lost yet another round of trial as a federal appeals court panel in New York dismissed the case. The defendants are My Other Bag, and Louis Vuitton claimed “evident trademark dilution and copyright infringement”. However, My Other Bag claims that the vans totes they are manufacturing were meant to be a “joke” that “Louis Vuitton didn’t get”. There was no intention of actually copying the name-brand product.

In fact, Judge Gerard E. Lynch agreed with the company, saying, “I understand you don’t get the joke. But it’s a joke”.

Now, we know that fashion has no limits. But how does potentially counterfeiting a product qualify as a joke? Especially to high-fashion brand Louis Vuitton. Absolutely NOTHING on their models’ faces signifies that Louis Vuitton is interested in joking around about their brand and label. (Also, can we just quickly mention how CHIC their Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear Collection is?!)

Well, here’s the backstory.

In 2014, Louis Vuitton sued My Other Bag over the canvas tote bags launched by Tara Martin in 2011. After walking out of a grocery store in LA with only her Prada bag to carry her groceries, she came up with a new creative concept. She started manufacturing grocery tote bags that have photos of expensive handbags on the outside.

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When the case went to the U.S. District Court in New York, the claim was tossed out early 2016. Furman also agreed with the discussed humorous nature of the product, noting that the cheap tote bags were an obvious attempt at humor that was “not likely to cause confusion or the blurring of the distinctiveness of Louis Vuitton’s marks”.

However, Louis Vuitton’s attorneys took the matter into their own hands and appealed to the federal courts as was previously discussed at the beginning of this post. They argued that the bags were clearly protected by trademark law’s parody defence. The panel didn’t agree.

What do you think about this ruling? Should high-end companies be protected against counterfeit products that are evidently jokes or unintended to actually represent the product itself? Further, would sales from My Other Bag really impact the high revenues Louis Vuitton is making? Will people REALLY get mixed up?

Our Ruling: In this case, it is clear that the My Other Bag intended for their products to serve a different purpose than those of Louis Vuitton. Thus, we agree with both judges’ decisions. However, concern arises in setting precedents regarding the extent and legitimacy of utilizing the trademark law’s parody defence. Counterfeit products are a serious concern for retailers, and manipulation of this piece of legislation to support these faux products would be unfortunate. Items counterfeiting designed brands are not unprecedented, but moreover, they are definitely NOT chic.

Content from this post was drawn from California Apparel News.

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