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.
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.