Let’s start by making it clear that copyright law, judiciously applied and utilized in good faith is a vital weapon in the law’s armory to defeat attacks against intellectual property. Unfortunately though the frivolous and aggressive claims pursued in recent years make a mockery of the law and descend into the realm of the absurd. Laughable were it not for the devastating impact such claims can have on new businesses, whose only offence is to have some vague and unintentional connection to the image of another established business, that is unlikely to cause any confusion on the part of consumers.
Prepare to be amazed by this rogue’s gallery of copyright law abuse. Here’s a fun one, apparently, only Spike Lee is allowed to call things ‘Spike.’ The Nashville Network started out as a country-music cable channel. Eventually, they gave up on country music, changed their name to TNN, and switched to more profitable programming aimed at men, let’s just say they had a strong focus on blowing stuff up and admiring the female form. In a move to further distance themselves from their country’s past, they chose the cartoonishly masculine name “Spike TV.”
Now, you may have recognized the name “Spike” as the name of sometimes-acclaimed film director Spike Lee. You may have also recognized it as the name of director Spike Jonze, or that vampire from Buffy, or millions of dogs, or those things they put railroads together with. Really, there are a lot of things called “Spike.” But it was Spike Lee who, in a moment of vanity said to himself, “No, this has to be about me,” and took legal action. His reasoning was that he didn’t want his name associated with lowbrow programming, because when you see “Spike TV” in your cable guide, what else would you assume but that it’s 24 consecutive hours of Spike Lee movies? Lee did win a temporary injunction against the network shortly before everyone realized that it was frivolous. It turns out you can’t claim a trademark on a nickname as generic as “Spike.” Spike TV got to keep their name, and Lee was not forced to change his back to “Shelton.”
The general public don’t like this sort of corporate bullying and ironically this sort of action often gives plenty of free publicity to the smaller player who finds themselves unfairly under attack. Regardless, there are many other examples of copyright bullying going on that although not as high profile as the Spike Lee vs Spike TV example, still rankle as examples of absurd and aggressive behaviour by corporate monoliths against nascent start ups.
Let us turn our attention now to Richard Branson https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/richard-branson-why-you-should-support-entrepreneur-2017, the jolly bearded all around corporate superstar and friend to celebrities. He founded the Virgin Group https://www.virgin.com/ decades ago as a humble record store and has grown it to a global conglomerate that has even reached beyond the bounds of earth to dabble in corporate space travel. However jolly this Santa like figure may seem, his well trained pack of copyright attack dogs have a long history of engaging in ridiculous copyright lawsuits.
Apparently, only the Virgin Group can use the term ‘Virgin.’ In this case the company in question isn’t even called ‘Virgin x’ but VIRGINIC https://virginic.com/. You read correctly, the word ‘Virgin’ only forms part of the word which is the company name, much like ‘auto’ forms part of ‘automatic.’ VIRGINIC sells mission-driven, allergy-free, ethical and vegan cosmetics. A small startup with big mission to hand-make the purity for its loyal group of customers. One thing is clear, you wouldn’t confuse them with Virgin because the products that VIRGINIC makes are nothing to do with Virgin mobile or galactic ventures. Heck, Virgin might as well sue the proud state of Virginia for daring to have its name and confusing its poor citizens into believing they have a connection to Branson’s business activities.
As ridiculous as this claim is there is currently no happy outcome and victory for common sense as there was in the case of Spike TV. Initially, when VIRGINIC LLC applied to register their trademark in the UK in January 2018, opposition by the Virgin Group was rejected in the first instance on the basis that the average consumer would not assume a connection between VIRGINIC and Virgin. However, Virgin has deep pockets and a legal team who don’t take defeat lightly, however spurious their claims are.
Virgin subsequently appealed to the UK High Court and common sense did not win out. VIRGINIC had to pay Virgin’s costs of £35,000.
VIRGINIC applied to appeal this decision and was denied a right to do so.
Furthermore, lawyers of Virgin demanded that VIRGINIC fully closes the shop and proceeded to sue in personal capacity employees and management of VIRGINIC LLC, to threaten them into closing. Virgin also opened a new lawsuit in Wyoming, suing VIRGINIC LLC and adding to the suit few other unrelated entities that the management was previously involved in, hoping to make its point through corporate harassment.
Virgin lawyers also engage in daily spying on VIRGINIC’s employees’ and managers’ social media pages and profiles, a truly distasteful tactic of a common bully. Screenshots of social media presence, activity and Linkedin profiles are then added as evidence of activity and location to the Wyoming lawsuit. All in the attempt to destroy a small company and add yet another trophy to Virgin’s collection of history of trademark abuse.
In a world where respect for established authority is at a particularly low ebb, victory for VIRGINIC would strike a powerful blow for the natural court justice system and a fair and efficient legal system which we’re yet to witness.