Louis Vuitton Sues Darfur Fundraiser; Seems Unclear On The Concept Of Trademark

from the such-fashionable-bullies dept

An artist named Nadia Plesner recently put together a project to try to raise money for the victims of genocide in Darfur. As part of the campaign, she created a t-shirt with a drawn image of a Darfur victim “pimped” out to look like Paris Hilton — that is, carrying a designer handbag and a small dressed up dog. The entire profits from the t-shirts are going to help the victims. The handbag drawn in the image is not specifically a Louis Vuitton bag, but the design firm seems to have gone ballistic, claiming all sorts of intellectual property rights it simply does not possess. First, it sent a (admittedly friendly) cease-and-desist, which Plesner wrote about on the site, while responding and telling the company that she would not take down the t-shirt or the image. In response, LV went from friendly to nasty. It sued, demanding $7,500 for each day she keeps selling the product, $7,500 for each day she displays its original cease-and-desist letter and (my favorite) $7,500 for each day she mentions the name “Louis Vuitton” on her website.

While, there may be some difference due to the specifics of trademark law in Europe, it’s hard to see how this is not overreaching. This is an entirely non-commercial venture. All of the profits are given to charity. The design has some differences from the Louis Vuitton bag, and hardly seems likely to specifically damage the Louis Vuitton brand (the lawsuit will take care of that). The t-shirts are clearly not competing with Louis Vuitton and there’s little reason to have anyone think that Louis Vuitton somehow “endorsed” this effort. Furthermore, posting the cease-and-desist or even mentioning the name Louis Vuitton simply should not be infringing activities. I don’t know if Europe has the equivalent of the “moron in a hurry” trademark test, but LV gets the “moron in a hurry” award for the week.

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Companies: louis vuitton

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Comments on “Louis Vuitton Sues Darfur Fundraiser; Seems Unclear On The Concept Of Trademark”

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Spike says:

Re: Holy Terms of Use!

Those TOS are crazy! And it can’t be blamed on being French – Hermes, more or less a competitor, is also French and says nothing remotely like the LV site. They’re even friendly!

Makes me glad about all those “LV bags” I picked up in Saigon a few years ago for gifts. Think I paid about $6 each.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t blame LV as an owner of trademarked and copyrighted web material and trademarked automotive parts i would not want my materials associated in such a manner with a tragedy like that in darfur. Everyone is just so wrapped up in the fact that everyone is suing everyone for everything that no one stops to like about the reason that LV may be doing this. She is associating LV’s products with a tragedy in a manner that makes them look bad. I sadly have to side with LV on this one.
I think people should think more about the underlying reasons for lawsuits before that bash a company for trying to protect themselves. In trying to show the fact the Paris Hilton gets more media coverage than. The conflict in darfur she is making a company that has no control over Paris Hilton’s actions or control over what TV stations and news mediums cover.

DanC says:

Re: Re:

She is associating LV’s products with a tragedy in a manner that makes them look bad. I sadly have to side with LV on this one.

Except that the bag, as noted, is “in the style of” a Louis Vuitton handbag rather than a direct copy of a design. Unfortunately, what would be covered by fair use in the U.S. is not so clear cut in Europe. The image is obviously being used satirically, which is typically covered by fair use in the U.S.

people should think more about the underlying reasons for lawsuits before that bash a company for trying to protect themselves

A company that demands payment for the posting of a cease & desist letter or for mentioning their name on a website deserves to be ridiculed. If Louis Vuitton doesn’t want the negative publicity from suing a fundraiser, then they should not have filed the lawsuit.

jerjer says:

Re: Re: Re:

there is much misconception about copyright and trademark laws.
one, the American Copyright Act is infinitely harsher than the corresponding French laws.
two, fair use which is by nature loosely defined has never been a very effective line of defense in court. what you refer to as satire which is typically covered by fair use in the U.S. is rather seen by this legal system as a derivative work from copyrighted material which is an offense.

three, damage is constituted whether the work is used for profit or not. unauthorized use of copyrighted works for teaching, charity, whatever, still constitutes an infringement. whether the sales of the t-shirts directly hurt the business of LV is completely immaterial to the case.

So as much as I hate to see an artist who fights for a good cause to be locked in a nasty lawsuit I can’t condemn LV who have the duty to protect their image. she really should have altered her design rather than picking that one fight.

Jake says:

Re the third comment, when you put it like that I say LV ought to offer Ms Plessner one of their actual bags for the t-shirts in order to explicitly and publicly disown the shallow, self-centred culture whose inane antics draw attention away from the important issues in the world. They wouldn’t be slighting anyone smart enough to realise they’d been slighted, it’s good PR, and most importantly it’s ethical.

anne (profile) says:

Bad PR move just bad PR move

Hey LV, why don’t you donate one of your overpriced genuine bags so this woman can auction it off to raise money for the starving people in Darfur?

In my opinion, there isn’t much of a correlation between consumer excess in the West and the wretched conditions of those poor souls who are suffering in Darfur, but in this case, LV should engage in a little bit of good PR and end this lawsuit.

Rekrul says:

I don’t blame LV as an owner of trademarked and copyrighted web material and trademarked automotive parts i would not want my materials associated in such a manner with a tragedy like that in darfur.

Do you make ridiculously overpriced status symbols? If not, then I doubt your materials would be used in this manner.

Everyone is just so wrapped up in the fact that everyone is suing everyone for everything that no one stops to like about the reason that LV may be doing this. She is associating LV’s products with a tragedy in a manner that makes them look bad. I sadly have to side with LV on this one.

And you’re not stopping to think about the reason she drew a bag that resembles something from LV. It’s not meant to represent Paris Hiltom directly, it’s meant to represent people like her who have money to waste on over-priced crap like LV. Honestly, does anyone really say “Wow, that bag is so well made and versatile” or “Gee, that bag is a work of art”? No, they say “Is that a LV bag or a knockoff?”

If it didn’t have a designer name on it, celebrities wouldn’t be caught dead with such a garish eye-sore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not really, because I’ve read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and The Millionare Nextdoor.

The main concept I’m trying to focus on is this– If you buy one nice thing, then you need to buy a bunch of nice things to complement it. In your example, it’s quite possible to drop $4k more into that machine, and upgrade everything. Then, lo-and-behold, it would depreciate to $500 within 2 years.

This same idea works with trendy purses that are no longer trendy in one year. They depreciate just like a lead balloon!

But as far as LV is concerned, they seem to be digging their own grave by suing a nonprofit fundraiser. It’s not difficult to imagine that the brand will be segregated within the fashon industry, and in consumer mindset itself.

Hopefully they wake up and drop the silly suit.

barrenwaste (profile) says:

Sue Happy

I don’t know who Louis Vuitton’s legal and pr heads are, but they obviously suck at thier jobs. First, there was no infringement. Second, you can’t sue a person for disclosing legal information about themselves. And, third, you cannot sue a person for mentioning your company name unless that person is claiming to market your products. It is quite evident that Louis Vuitton has stepped on it’s own equipment with this one, and my hope is that if it is taken to court that the court assigns severe penalties to them for it’s frivolous attitude and attempt to bully a charity aimed at helping starving people.

Jeremy says:

I was going to be purchasing a $1500 LV bag for my bf. (Don’t ask me why he wanted it, but he did none the less). He has now decided that instead he will be getting a different brand.

Corporations cannot control using their logo (even though she wasn’t using their logo) as long as they are not competing with them. Which she clearly is not. Furthermore her use is for a good cause and I hate when companies act like the entire world is like the set of leave it to beaver. I agree with another poster on this forum. Why don’t they just embrace it and make a donation to the cause. They would look like such better people, and I would actually make my purchase of the bag for my bf.

But they are idiots. Maybe we will check out Gucci or Prada!

Go to hell Louis!

Lisa Westveld (profile) says:

I could be wrong...

I could be wrong but Louis Vuittin bags have a monogram on their bags with the letters “LV”. Nadia Plesner created something similar with a monogram of the letters “LS”. Also, the texture of Nadia’s bag does look a bit like the louis bag but such a thing is common for designer bags, isn’t it?

Of course, the “LS” actually stands for “Simple Living” and I don’t think it’s even possible to copyright a monogram. (Lots of prior art anyways…) But the original letter mentions this monogram as a trademark violation.

Then again, maybe LV is actually trying to help this girl by using the Streisand Effect! Maybe they’re so stupid on purpose because I can’t imagine any qualified Lawyet to be this dumb, even if they’re french…
Fact is, this publicity makes their name better-known again, even though it’s bad publicity. People tend to remember the name only, anyways. But people will now also start supporting this woman a lot more, with a lot of extra publicity for her case. So, they might have blemished their own reputation a bit, this is helping thos good cause quite a lot. 🙂

Namdnal Siroj says:

I understand why LV would react to this: her image ties their brand to a very negative message. Basically she’s suggesting that every time someone buys a LV bag, a baby dies. She places LV in the enemy’s camp.
I understand of course the juxtaposition of wealth vs. want, but this type of imagery is not original, very arbitrary and not even specific to her cause.

Ole Juul says:

It is egotistical of LV to think that this Darfur campaign has anything to do with them. The artistic message of the shirts is clear, but perhaps LV’s “Intelectual” (ahem) Property Management is poorely educated on these matters.

@Namdnal Siroj: I would agree with you but actually, it is a very positive message and is not tied to LV any more than it is tied to dog breeders.

george says:

louis vuiton detroyed my family

(Antounians v. Louis Vuitton et al, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC396340).
A brother and sister who operated a retail store on the Santee Alley bargain strip in the Fashion District of Downtown say they were falsely accused of dealing in counterfeit merchandise and forced out of business by “malicious prosecution” pressed by representative of the Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior fashion labels.

George and Marijeanne Antounian recently filed a lawsuit against the two Paris, France-based luxury brand giants and their attorneys. The Antounians claim that a prior suit that the companies filed against them was itself unlawful.

A federal court eventally dismissed the lawsuit against the Antounians and awarded them approximately $70,000 in lawyer’s fees. That covered about half of what they spent on legal representation in fighting the case, according to a lawyer representing them in their suit against the luxury brands.

The Antounians are seeking unspecified damages from the companies in a malicious prosecution suit alleging that representatives of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, and their respective lawyers, knew that allegations of copyright and trademark infringement against them were not true but nevertheless continued with the litigation.

The cost of the defending against the charges eventually forced the Antounian’s to close their Bijou Palace shop on the 1100 block of Santee Alley, according to the couple, who claim they were also forced to liquidate their inventory, a process that typically involves selling off merchandise at very low prices.

The Antounian’s malicious prosecution lawsuit claims that representatives of the two giant luxury labels hired a private investigation company called Investigative Consultants in 2005 to determine whether stores on Santee Alley were selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior wallets, purses, and other goods. An investigation of nearly two years led to the firm to wrongfully conclude that the Antounians had sold fake Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior products, according to the lawsuit. The Antounians claim that a video used in the investigation showed such counterfeit transactions occurring at adjacent stores and on the pathway of Santee Alley itself, but not at Bijou Palace.

“The Antounians’ store sold only costume jewelry and was not in the business of selling purses and wallets,” said Sean Macias, managing partner of Macias Counsel, Inc. in Glendale, and the lead attorney representing the Antounians.

William Salle, co-counsel for the Antounians, said that a member of the investigation team, Arianna Ortiz, admitted she provided false testimony in identifying Bijou Palace as one of the stores selling knockoff products.

“Ortiz alerted Kris Buckner, president of Investigative Consultants, and lead counsel Janine Garguilo for Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, of the errors in the investigation reports months before trial, but legal action still proceeded against the Antounians,” according to Salle.

The Antouians lawsuit also alleges that during a trial on accusations against them, in July 2007, Buckner testified that he never saw handbags, wallets, or sunglasses—or any Louis Vuitton or Christian Dior items—for sale at Bijou Palace.

“These were the same items that the Antounians and Bijou Palace were to have allegedly sold,” said Salle.

Macias said that efforts to combat counterfeiting of merchandise are understandable, but contended that his clients were wrongly caught up in the efforts.

“Maybe they wanted to send a message to would-be counterfeiters that they mean business,” Macias said. “Instead, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior succeeded only in destroying an innocent small business.”

Representatives of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior could not be reached for comment, as of presstime

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not saying im on LV’s side but what is not said in this article is that LV did ask for the image to be removed before the whole issue was taken to court but Nadia decided not to pay attention. Also Nadia was originally only donating 30% of the money raised to charity, it was only when the whole affair went public did she change to donating 100% of the money raised. It is easy to point fingers at the big global brand in this issue but they are only protecting their image. Until people stop buying named products, law cases like this will continue.

Nadia Plesner (user link) says:

Copyrights and human rights

Anonymous Coward,

I came across your comment about my dispute with LV regarding the drawing I made to raise awareness and money for the victims in Darfur. In your comment you mention that 30% of the sales from the first Simple Living campaign went to Darfur, that is not correct. From the start, 100 % of the profits went to the organization “Divest for Darfur”. I did make a translation mistake though. I wrote on my site that 30% of the profits went to Divest for Darfur when it was 30% of the PRICE, but 100% of the profits. And I realized my mistake when I read two whole pages about it in the lawsuit from LV. No problem, I thought, I will just show them the bookkeeping, but they had no interest in seeing the numbers. Instead, my writing mistake has been their only way to defend themselves. 
They have given it as a fact to many medias, who report it, and when I see it I always try to correct it.
Trust is everything when you start a foundation and are involved with fundraising, and I don’t want this inaccurate information to tear down my campaigns. The second Simple Living campaign has raised enough money to fill up a container with medical equipment for Darfur, and it will be shipped from Europe within two months.
I am very proud of the fact that I – together with many people who bought a t-shirt or poster – have made this happen. 
Regarding my drawing, I see why LV didn’t like it, it was a provocative art work. And since I chose to stop selling the shirts we will never know if it was actually legal or not. But I won’t have it circulating in cyberspace that only parts of the sales went to Darfur, simply because it isn’t true.
Since my foundation (The Nadia Plesner Foundation) is brand new, I will get my first year report (2008) from my accountant within the next months. As soon as I get it, it will be published on http://www.nadiaplesnerfoundation.org.

And sure they asked for the image to be removed before they sued me, but why would I want to stop my campaign because they asked me to? Do you even realize what is happening in Darfur? I still can’t believe that there are people out there who believes that protection of copyrights is more important than protection of human rights.

always to the right says:

Copyrights and human rights

Except that a style of life, food housing medical care are not human rights and owning things you make things you produce are. They came up with the design and made it popular they own the design. The people in Dafur have to take care of themselves and develop an economy to support their population. The only things you deserve are the things you earn.

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