The Supreme Court Will Hear The Jack Daniel’s- Talk of whisky bottles, dog toys, pornography, and feces dominated a Supreme Court discussion on parody and well-known commercial trademarks on Wednesday.
The justices debated the conflict between free expression and trademark protection for over two hours in a case that pitted a maker of amusing dog toys against Jack Daniel’s bourbon distillery.
The dispute, Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc. v. VIP Products, concerns a chew toy that imitates a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whisky but is mislabeled as “Bad Spaniels” and implies that its contents are dog feces.
In her opening statement before the court on Wednesday, Lisa Blatt, an attorney for Jack Daniel’s whisky, claimed that the lawsuit involved a dog toy that “copies Jack Daniel’s trademark and trade dress and links its whisky with dog feces.”
According to the booze company, the toy’s design creates confusion and degrades the quality of its brand. The spoof, according to VIP Products, is clear and First Amendment-protected.
On Wednesday, Bennett Cooper, an attorney for VIP Products, stated that the complainants were not criticizing the brand but rather the speech, the parody, and the analogy to dog waste and a Bad Spaniel. The likelihood of confusion is low regarding parodies of noncompetitive products like Bad Spaniels.
An appeals court upheld the toy after a district court sided with Jack Daniel’s. The judges thought about the legal standard that should be used to determine whether a trademark has been violated and whether VIP Products’ toy had done so.
“Could any logical person believe Jack Daniels had authorized this use of the mark?” Blatt, who was arguing for the distiller, was questioned by Justice Samuel Alito.
Blatt answered, “Sure.” Because of this, we prevailed in the district court.
The First Amendment consequences of your viewpoint worry me, Alito added.
Blatt, who had the support of numerous US companies, including American Apparel, Campbell Soup Company, and Nike, argued that allowing imitations like “Bad Spaniels” would encourage detrimental trademark infringement, including pornographic use of the mark.
If their mark has been used in pornographic media, such as porn toys and sex toys, and individuals are making money off of it, trademark owners may be subject to “something that approaches compelled speech,” Blatt warned the justices.
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She brought up the 1970s pornographic film “Debbie Does Dallas,” which an appeals court said violated the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ trademark in a different case.
However, VIP Products asserted that a dog toy is a “noncommercial” form of protected expression because it is a unique parody and does not explicitly mention “Jack Daniel’s,” according to Cooper, one of their attorneys.
Without question, Jack Daniel’s takes itself extremely seriously, said Cooper.
Some court players didn’t seem to be persuaded.
Justice Elena Kagan questioned, “Maybe I just don’t see the humor, but what’s the parody? She continued by claiming that the chew toy is just a “ordinary commercial product” that capitalizes on the similarity of a whisky brand.
“Doggie Walker, Dos Perros, Smella R Paw, Canine Coke, and Mountain Drool are just a few of the marks you make fun of. Many of these businesses seem to be taking themselves way too seriously.” With a dry tone, she questioned.
The arguments in the morning were directed by Chief Justice John Roberts, who did not, however, pose any questions. Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, justices, remained silent the entire time.
For nearly two hours, in an argument punctuated by laughter, the justices wrestled with the intersection of freedom of speech and protection for trademarks in a case pitting a humorous dog toy maker against whiskey maker Jack Daniel's. https://t.co/HVsHqsAycu
— ABC News (@ABC) March 23, 2023
The justices didn’t appear to agree on which corporation should win or if the case should be sent to a lower court for more deliberation.
By the end of June, the court should have rendered a decision.