file cabinet

When Does Imitation Go Too Far?

New York City is known for many things – the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Chinatown’s infamous designer knockoffs on Canal Street. Imitation is often considered the sincerest form of flattery, but when does it cross the line into copyright infringement and incur liability?

Copyright infringement is a serious violation of a creator’s rights that can cost them considerable money and other tangential benefits. Upon a showing that a subsequent product is not sufficiently unique or differentiated from their own, a creator establishes either a copyright or trademark infringement and can then recover damages and pursue remedies including an order that the infringing party cease production of their products in that form or remove offending products from their shelves.

Parody: When Copyright Infringement Will Not Apply

However, products intended to parody well-known products may not rise to the level of copyright infringement. In a high-profile lawsuit in 2007, Louis Vuitton Malletier lost a claim of copyright infringement against Haute Diggity Dog, a comedy fashion company. Haute Diggity Dog had released a parody product line of pet toys called Chewy Vuitton to complement its other knockoff lines with such names as Sniffany & Co. and Chewnel No. 5.

Louis Vuitton Malletier claimed that the toys imitated Louis Vuitton’s “LV” mark with a “CV” mark and this resulted in trademark dilution based on tarnishment and blurring. The United States Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s finding that the element of parody was present and thus Haute Diggity Dog had differentiated its products sufficiently to defeat claims of both copyright and trademark infringement. Louis Vuitton did not successfully demonstrate that the uniqueness of its marks was likely to be impaired by Haute Diggity Dog’s use of “Chewy Vuitton” and “CV.”

Risks of Pursuing Copyright Infringement

New York Copyright and trademark infringement cases are often complex and can be quite difficult to litigate. Parties considering embarking on this road should also consider that such claims can even end up backfiring on the party claiming infringement, so this should be approached with caution.

An infamous example of a lawsuit going horribly writing for the plaintiff is the outcome MGA Entertainment Inc. experienced in 2008 when it tried to sue Mattel for copyright infringement. MGA argued Mattel had copied their line of Bratz dolls, most notably the proportions of their dolls, to reclaim a larger share of the toy market. During the case, Mattel’s legal team was able to show former Mattel employee had moved to MGA and used designs there he had created during his tenure at Mattel.

As a result of this development, the Bratz doll designs were held to still be Mattel’s legal property. MGA was ordered to remove their dolls from stores and pay Mattel damages in the amount of $100,000,000. Though the companies are still engaged in legal wrangling over a decade later, the court’s ruling is a stark reminder that miscalculating when alleging copyright or trademark infringement can be an expensive proposition.

Think you are dealing with copyright infringement or being accused of one and not sure what to do? Get in touch with the talented team of New York attorneys at MOWK Law for a case evaluation and learn about your legal rights.