Vice Media Sends Cease And Desist To ViceVersa Over Trademark Infringement
from the vexing-vices dept
We’re going to have to keep hammering this home until more people get it: trademark law is about preventing confusion in the marketplace. The reason why that needs to be understood is that just about every time you read a story about one entity going after another over a trademark issue, the refrain of “we must protect our trademarks or we lose them” is trotted out like some kind of bower card that trumps the rest of the discussion. That excuse is just that: an excuse. And it certainly doesn’t lift from those that use it the burden of being called trademark bullies.
Here to show us all an example of this kind of bullying is Vice Media, which decided to fire off a cease and desist letter to ViceVersa, a barely-making-it punk band.
Vice Media, a company valued at $2.5 billion whose CEO once spent $300,000 on dinner, wants ViceVersa, an unsigned Los Angeles indie band whose members are struggling to pay rent, to change its name — or else.
In a cease-and-desist letter sent to the band, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post, the media behemoth says the three-piece rock outfit’s name and logo both sound and look too similar to Vice’s own name and logo. The band, the letter argues, is “infringing on the exclusive rights held by Vice Media in the VICE® Mark” and is “likely to confuse consumers as to the source of services offered under [ViceVersa’s] mark, and wrongly implies that Vice Media sponsors, endorses or is otherwise affiliated with [ViceVersa].”
There’s enough gall here on the part of Vice Media to make this funny in a sad kind of way. Now, to be fair, Vice Media does indeed operate Vice Music, a label which has released records with some very big names in the music industry. It also owns a ton of other media outlets, such as magazines, book publishers, films and digital television. And it claims to own the rights to the word “vice” in basically any permutation or word combination for all of those markets. That isn’t actually true, of course, but that doesn’t keep a behemoth from trying to stomp on a little punk band.
I’ll note that the threat letter arrived just after the USPTO approved the band’s request to trademark its name, ViceVersa. Not that we should take the USPTO’s opinion on whether a mark is valid as gospel, certainly, but I daresay that Vice Media isn’t exactly an unknown around the USPTO offices, yet it approved ViceVersa’s trademark. Which is when the threat letter arrived, seriously suggesting that ViceVersa was infringing on its trademark for “commercial profit and gain, to the great detriment of Vice Media.”
Below you can see a video released by the band that is about to bring one of the media giants of this world to its knees.
Those do indeed look like dangerous folk, I guess. Now, Vice Media hasn’t yet trotted out the aforementioned excuse that it must protect its trademark or else lose it, but it will if asked. That’s what these companies do. And it’s common.
Harry Finkel, ViceVersa’s attorney, says these kind of cease-and-desist letters are common. “You have a big company that is overzealous in protecting its mark,” he said.
Finkel says he wrote a letter back to Vice offering to change some of the language in Morales’ trademark application, so that it was clear that the band “would not be doing anything with TV shows or magazine publishing or publishing in general” that could be seen as encroaching on Vice’s territory. He says he never heard back from the company. Instead, Vice in March filed a letter of opposition to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, asking that ViceVersa’s trademark application be denied.
Nope, they’re not talking to you, sir. Parley is part of the pirate’s code, after all. Honorable folks like Vice Media would never engage in conversation in order to stop bullying a punk band in California. Vice Media has a history of doing this kind of thing, of course, but hopefully the USPTO smacks this opposition down tout de suite.