Will Madonna Sing “Girls Gone Wild” at the Super Bowl?
Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:52PM
Admin in Business Law, General Business, Intellectual Property, Litigation, Nicholas Kanter, business litigation, trademark

 

Business Litigation Los AngelesLos Angeles Business Litigation AttorneyFebruary 3, 2012
by Nicholas Kanter


Joe Francis, the founder of Girls Gone Wild, just sent a cease and desist letter to Madonna, NBC and the National Football League threatening to file a lawsuit if Madonna sings a track from her new album entitled “Girls Gone Wild, ” according to TMZ.com. In the letter, Francis claims Madonna’s use of the name violates his trademark rights in the brand.

Should Madonna be concerned?

Francis may have an uphill battle in light of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002).  The Mattel case involved Mattel’s famous Barbie doll and the Danish band Aqua’s song entitled “Barbie Doll.”  Mattel sued the music companies that produced, marketed and sold “Barbie Girl,” including MCA Records, Inc. and Universal Music International.  Mattel claimed that the use of “Barbie” in the title of the song “Barbie Doll” infringed its trademark.

The Ninth Circuit followed a test developed by the Second Circuit in Rogers v. Grimaldi, 871 F.2d 994 (2nd Cir. 1989) which involved a claim by the actress Ginger Rogers against the film “Ginger and Fred”; a movie about two Italian cabaret performers who made a living by imitating Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. 

The Rogers court “concluded that literary titles do not violate the [Trademark Act] ‘unless the title has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless the title explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work.’”  Mattel, 296 F.3d at 902.

Using the Rogers’ test, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the use of “Barbie” in the song title “Barbie Doll” did not infringe Mattel’s trademark.  Id.  The Ninth Circuit held: “the use of Barbie in the song title clearly is relevant to the underlying work, namely, the song itself.  As noted, the song is about Barbie and the values Aqua claims she represents.  The song title does not explicitly mislead as to the source of the work; it does not, explicitly or otherwise, suggest that it was produced by Mattel.  The only indication that Mattel might be associated with the song is the use of Barbie in the title.”  Id.

Based on the Mattel decision, Francis may have a difficult time prevailing on an infringement claim unless: (1) the title “Girls Gone Wild” has no artistic relevance to Madonna’s song; or (2) if it has some artistic relevance, Madonna’s song explicitly misleads consumers  as to the source of the song.  Madonna’s “Girls Gone Wild” track has not been released yet, so it is too early to say whether Madonna can satisfy the first prong of the test.  However, given Madonna’s popularity, it is unlikely that consumers will believe that Joe Francis wrote the song. 

Will Madonna perform “Girls Gone Wild?”  Will Francis sue if she does?  Will Tebow’s attendance at the Super Bowl overshadow the game itself?  We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see. 

 

Nicholas Kanter is a Los Angeles Business & Civil Litigation attorney whose practice focuses on intellectual property, employment, franchise & distribution, and real estate matters. You may reach him by calling 818.990.2120, or by e-mail: nkanter@lewitthackman.com.  




 
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