Trademark News & Screw-ups Ninth Circuit Nixes Rap Label’s ‘Empire’ Claim Against Fox

The court found that Fox's use of the word "Empire" did not constitute infringement of the "Empire" trademark owned by a music label Empire Distribution because the word "Empire", used as a title of Fox's show, was "artistically relevant to the themes and setting of the show." Under the second prong of the 2-part test, the court found that the title would not confuse consumers. What's important here is that the court went out of its way to find artistic relevance in the use of the name. To put it bluntly, the court said, "if someone uses your brand for an artistic purpose and your brand is artistically relevant to that artistic purpose, we're willing to disregard your trademark rights—as long as there is no actual customer confusion." This could create a dangerous precedent that would undermine the value of trademarks. But kudos to Fox's lawyers—they managed to do the one thing that is the utmost important thing in a courtroom. They convinced the judge that their client had a better story than the other side. Finding the law to justify the decision was secondary.

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