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.

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Companies: major league baseball, ny yankees

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Comments on “NY Yankees: It's Insulting To Call Us The Evil Empire… But It's Also Trademark Infringement”

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17 Comments
Alex (profile) says:

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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