NY Yankees: It's Insulting To Call Us The Evil Empire... But It's Also Trademark Infringement

from the pick-one dept

Ah, the NY Yankees. I've mentioned in the past that I'm actually a big Yankees baseball fan (last night's loss sucked), but sometimes the team (like all of Major League Baseball) does stupid things with intellectual property law. The latest is a report that the team (and Major League Baseball) are trying to deny a trademark to a couple who is selling anti-Yankee gear (mainly to Red Sox fans) using the term "Evil Empire." The Yankees are, quite amazingly, suggesting that this infringes on their own trademarks, while at the same time claiming that "evil empire" reflects poorly on the team.
This whole thing seems pretty crazy. As the Deadspin article linked above notes, "Evil Empire" is a phrase first used by Ronald Reagan and has since been used in a variety of ways. For the past few years, it's been used a few times in reference to the Yankees, starting with a statement from Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, after the Yankees beat out the Red Sox in pursuit of pitcher Jose Contreras (who never turned out to be as good as advertised anyway). But it's just a silly thing among fans. Some Yankee fans have embraced the "Evil Empire" tag, while Yankee haters like to use it to express their displeasure with the team. Either way, having anti-fans mock the Yankees with "Evil Empire" merchandise hardly seems like a bad thing (and I say that, again, as a fan). It's part of what keeps the rivalry going.
The term "evil empire" has a negative connotation because the word "evil" refers to that which is morally wrong or bad, immoral, wicked, harmful and/or injurious. The BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE mark will be understood to refer to the Club, and, upon information and belief, is clearly intended to do so, and thus may disparage Opposer[The Yankees], or bring Opposer into contempt or disrepute among a significant segment of the consuming public.
Of course, at the same time, even as they say that it's got a negative connotation, they claim they're also worried that people will think it's legitimate Yankee merchandise. I really don't see how that's possible though.
the Yankees hold that the phrase is so connected with the Yankees that people "are likely to believe that Applicant's goods, which are identical and/or closely related to the goods offered and services rendered in connection with the Club's marks, have their origin with Opposer and/or that such goods are approved, endorsed or sponsored by Opposer"--that the average fan, seeing shirts with the words "Evil Empire" and an altered logo, would assume the Yankees were selling the shirts.
So... either "Evil Empire" hurts the reputation of the team, or it's so closely connected to the team that it's effectively a common law trademark?

Of course, what this really comes down to is pure greed. It was really just a few decades ago that fans were able to make their own shirts supporting (or denigrating) teams, and it was considered perfectly reasonable. But, as we've discussed, that all changed in the 80s, when sports teams suddenly decided that they wanted you to pay to cheer (or boo) any particular team.

In this case, the folks selling the Evil Empire gear are going to try to defend their efforts claiming it's protected use as a "parody." I really have no idea how well that will hold up at the Trademark Office (or, eventually, in court), but just the fact that this is even in dispute seems pretty silly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:00am

    Major League Baseball is a MONOPOLY.

    And a stupid game. I suspect that a certain species of propagandists (such as George Will) use it only to foster the notion that they're "regular Joes" when in fact are New York elitists.

     

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    Saurabh, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:21am

    Hold on.. "Evil Empire" is not connected with Microsoft anymore?

     

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      DogBreath, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 10:11am

      Re:

      It was once, but that was a long time ago, in a operating system far far away. They were eventually defeated by the Steve "Jobs-i", and a bunch of Ewoks by making iPhones in China.

       

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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:43am

    What?

    ...or bring Opposer into contempt or disrepute among a significant segment of the consuming public.

    Are the Yankees implying that they're not already there?

     

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    charliebrown (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:53am

    Not A Fan But Am Amused =)

    I'm not a fan of baseball (is boring to watch, IMO, and I'm no good at playing it either) but I found those Evil Empire logos funny. Plus, IMO, even a moron in a hurry is unlikely to think the Yankees endorsed such a thing.

     

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    Richard (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:57am

    unintended consequences

    The BASEBALLS EVIL EMPIRE mark.... may ....bring [THE Yankees] into contempt or disrepute among a significant segment of the consuming public.

    Whereas this lawsuit will make everyone think the Yankees are wonderful???

     

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    DogBreath, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:59am

    Not to worry, it will just be another note in the history books

    MLB has finally realized that its time to make money is limited, and they want to make all the money they can before their time is up, in 2042.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 9:11am

    Good luck with that

    I suppose the next step is to try to track down the blessed soul who was selling the "Yankees Suck/Jeter Swallows" shirts a few years ago.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 9:13am

    I think they're better off arguing that the products are not licensed.

    As a Yankee fan, I'm delighted that the organization is viewed as the "Evil Empire." They're in the sports entertainment business...that's a pretty good schtick to have...the "Evil Empire!"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 9:23am

    I thought Reagan borrowed "Evil Empire" from Star Wars.

     

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    Jimr (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 10:14am

    Reagan's March 8, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida is his first recorded use of the phrase "evil empire."

    I was Meant for the Galactic Empire in Star Wars. As, A Reagan saw it, Galactic Empire was equivalent to the Soviet Empire.

    I can see how that relates to a baseball dynasty.

     

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    Joshua Perry, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 10:38am

    Does parody protection not apply? A reasonable person couldn't believe that the Yankees are involved in nefarious acts, other than roids and HGH.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 10:54am

    Yankees are suing fans because they are making fun of them, calling them evil?

    hang on, my irony detector just exploded.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 11:27am

    I could wish the Evil Empire video (porn) label would come in and land on the Yankees; after all, the team claims it's common law TM for them, but I'm betting the video label has a little better than common law claim.

     

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    Bahston Billy, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 12:33pm

    Yankees

    In breaking news, the Yankees are also applying for a trademark for the "Yankees Suck!" label seen so often on the streets of owah fayah city...

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 3:58pm

    Don't the defamation and trademark infringement lawsuits cancel each other out? If its defamation, then they're not an evil empire. If its trademark infringement they want, then they are an Evil Empire, and thus not defamation to call them such.

     

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    Alex (profile), Feb 22nd, 2013 @ 9:31am

    The Board just ruled on this recently!

    One nit to pick with this: "It was really just a few decades ago that fans were able to make their own shirts supporting (or denigrating) teams, and it was considered perfectly reasonable."

    Nothing really prevents people from making and wearing any of their own shirts. They just can't sell homemade shirts to others.

     

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