Movie Studio’s Use of “Knock-Off” Designer Luggage is Not Trademark Infringement


designer luggageThis case involves a motion picture studio that filmed a movie about a bachelor party that went awry. The film had a 25-minute scene in which a character was in an airport and carried luggage that appeared to be made by a famous luxury handbag designer. The famous handbag designer was a European company that was one of the premiere fashion houses in the world. The luxury handbag company was known worldwide for marketing its high-end luxury handbags, luggage, and trunks. Consumers had come to associate the company’s products with its famous and highly distinctive monogram. In the movie, a character is in an airport and gestures at the luggage and tells a porter to “be careful” with the bags because they are made by the luxury designer. The luggage in the scene was actually made by a Chinese company that manufactured “knock-offs” of the designer’s luggage, which displayed monograms similar to the one used by the famous design company. The luxury designer sued the motion picture studio for trademark infringement for using the “knock-off” luggage in the movie.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • If a movie studio makes a film that uses “knock-off” luggage imitating the famous monogrammed luggage of a luxury handbag maker, is this trademark infringement?

Expert Witness Response

The motion picture studio’s use of the “knock-off” designer luggage in the film is not trademark infringement. This is because the Lanham Act’s protection for trademarks does not usually extend to the use of a “knock-off” product that resembles a real, designer product in a movie. This protection does not apply because a movie is an “artistic work” and a movie studio is allowed to use a “knock-off” product in a movie as long as the use of the product is “artistically valid” and is a comment on an aspect of real life. In this case, the use of the “knock-off” luggage is probably just a reference by the movie studio to a well-known trademarked product that was used to create an expressive work. The protections of the Lanham Act do not extend to this type of use of a trademarked product for creative expression. The use of the “knock-off” luggage in the movie has the protections of the First Amendment because the movie studio is simply using a depiction of a trademarked product in a creative project. Also, since the “knock-off” luggage appears in a scene of a creative work, this is usually considered to be a noncommercial use of a trademarked product that is protected by the First Amendment’s free speech rights. Since the motion picture’s use of the “knock-off” luggage was only designed to create an artistic association with the luxury handbag designer and was not commercially motivated, it is not trademark infringement.

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