Titleist Tees Up Lawsuit Against Parody Clothier Because Golf Doesn't Have A Sense Of Humor
from the fore! dept
Back in the more innocent era of the early 2010s, you may recall that we discussed a series of delightful trademark disputes between clothier North Face and a couple of guys who started a business first called South Butt (later changed to Butt Face). In those series of posts, we discussed two conflicting facts: trademark lawsuits against parody operators such as this are extremely hard to win in court… except that those same lawsuits are crazy expensive to fight, so the parody operators typically just cave and settle. It’s one of those corners of the law in which the very framework of the legal system virtually ensures that the proper legal conclusion is never reached. Yay.
It seems that North Face’s peers in the clothing industry share its disdain for these parody companies. Titleist, for instance, recently filed a trademark and dilution lawsuit against a company called I Made Bogey, suggesting that the following example of its product both will confuse the public as to its origins and will tarnish Titleist’s reputation.
Now, if you want to make the point that the hats and other items with this same branding aren’t funny, go ahead. I’m right there with you. It’s not even particularly clever. That said, it’s also not the case that anyone is going to view this stuff as anything other than what it actually is: a parody of the notably poshly-presented golf brand. In fact, the joke only works, insofar as it does at all, if a person realizes that the parody pokes fun at the polite and often Waspy culture of golf. In other words, none of this is a thing were it not easily differentiated from Titleist’s brand. For that very reason, attacks on parody like this have a heavy legal load to tow up a large mountain of precedent.
In the suit, Titleist claims both trademark infringement and dilution. For dilution to stick, it must show that I Made Bogey’s hats tarnish Titleist’s reputation or blurs its fame. For trademark infringement, however, Titleist must show that consumers would be confused by the two logos. “They would have to show that people would think Titleist is making hats” with the sexually explicit misspelling, said Tobin, the attorney. And that would be pretty difficult, she said.
And, yet, despite all of that, conventional wisdom suggests that this will all be settled out of court before the lawsuit progresses much further. The cost to fight this fight is likely to be too much for I Made Bogey to shoulder.
That doesn’t mean I Made Bogey is necessarily going to prevail, though. Trademark suits are expensive to defend, and there’s no guarantee the maker of Titties hats will come out on top. If you want a lewd golf hat, act sooner rather than later.
And, whatever your opinion of I Made Bogey’s products, that’s too bad. Taste is not really at issue when it comes to protecting parody, an important form of speech. Defenders of free speech need to be able to keep their spines when opportunities to defend speech they don’t like arise. This is certainly one of those times. Abusing trademark law and playing pretend about public confusion to silence offensive speech is an action without any virtue.