The Hangover: Satchels, Louis Vuitton, and Trademark Infringement

What do trademark infringement attorneys dream of when they take a little tiger snooze?  Sometimes it is an interesting trademark infringement case that deals with a wildly popular movie, a famous fashion company and some fundamentals in trademark law.  Just such a case recently issued an opinion that has many good instructional points in trademark infringement law.  See Louis Vuitton Mallatier S.A. v. Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc., Cause No. 11 Civ. 9436 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ("Hangover II ").  This trademark infringement case involved the use of Louis Vuitton's trademarks in the movie "The Hangover: Part II." For those familiar with the Hangover movies and characters, you will know that the character Alan deflects criticism in the first movie of his man purse by calling it a "satchel" and grouping himself in the esteemed company of Indiana Jones.  In the Hangover II, the gags continue with Alan and the "wolf pack" riffing on a fake Louis Vuitton Keepall travel bag.  The court trademark infringement opinion is both entertaining and instructive.  The opinion even references lines in the movie.  Alan states that, with respect to a counterfeit Louis Vuitton Keepall travel bag, to be "careful that is  . . . that is a Lewis Vuitton."   Louis Vuitton did not see the humor in the line or the use of the fake bag and filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. asserting three claims for relief (1) false designation of origin/unfair competition in violation of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act (i.e. trademark infringement); (2) common law unfair competition; and (3) trademark dilution in violation of N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law 360-l.    On June 15, 2012 the Court sided with Warner Bros. and dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  Louis Vuitton complained that Warner Bros. misrepresented that the knock off bag was a genuine Louis Vuitton product. More specifically, Louis Vuitton argued that Warner Bros. impressmissably used a third-party's bag that allegedly infringed on the Louis Vuitton trademarks.  In reviewing Louis Vuitton's Lanham Act claims the court noted that the Lanham Act is inapplicable to "artistic works" as long as the defendant's use of the mark is (1) "artistically relevant" to the work and (2) not "explicating misleading" as to the source or content of the work.  Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994, 999(2d Cir. 1989).  In examining the artistic relevance issue, the court noted that the remark came "across as funny because [the character] mispronounces the French "Louis" like the English "Lewis.""  The court concluded that the use of the knock-off bag had some artistic relevance to the plot of the Hangover: Part II.  The court also concluded that the allegations of confusion were not plausible and that there was no likelihood of confusion that viewers would believe that the fake bag was a real Louis Vuitton bag just because a fictional character made this claim in the context of a fictional movie.    While humor rarely translates to written legal opinions, it cannot be said that the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York does not recognize a humorous scene in a movie when it is asked to review it in a trademark infringement claim.  This opinion, while entertaining, also highlights the current state of the law on the applicability of trademark infringement to "artistic works."

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