/ May 11, 2010

Lawsuit of the Day: The hat that launched a thousand knock-offs

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

That is just part of what is at stake in milliner, Luke Song’s, lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Friday, May 7.  You may not know who Luke Song is, but chances are, you are familiar with one of his recent masterpieces — the hat that Aretha Franklin, wore at President Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.

This is not Aretha's hat.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by howieluvzus

The hat has become so iconic that there at least three Flickr groups devoted to images of various people and cuddly pets “wearing” the hat (presumably courtesy of photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop).

Song is suing Brasseur Inc., King Ting Millinery Co., and S&S Hat Company, Inc. for selling unauthorized copies of his creation.  You can read excerpts of the complaint at The Smoking Gun and a complete copy is available via Courthouse News.   Song’s complaint includes claims for trademark infringement, common law unfair competition, and breach of warranty.

Judging from the complaint, the iconic status of the hat is not lost on its creator, Mr. Song.

According to Song’s complaint, his original creation, “gained instantaneous fame and notoriety, attracting much more media attention than even Aretha Franklin’s performance itself . . .”

Ouch.  We don’t doubt the hat’s cultural impact, but we would not be surprised if Ms. Franklin is not inclined to purchase any more hats from Luke Song.

Bonus:  You may be interested to learn that Song’s lawsuit is not the first trademark suit filed over an iconic hat.  In 1996, Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. sued Penguin Books USA, Inc., over a “Cat in the Hat”-styled parody that tells the story of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Among the marks that Dr. Seuss Enterprises claimed were infringed was, “the design of the cat’s stove pipe hat.”  Dr. Seuss Enter. L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 924 F. Supp. 1559 (S.D. Cal. 1996).

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