Seeing Double (Standards): Celebrities, TNCs and IP Infringement

The Red Carpet to IP Infringement

Rolling out the red carpet for celebrities shouldn’t mean being walked over when it comes to IP infringement!

Famous people and big businesses are some of the fastest to protect their IP rights. Big names love IP. In fact, they’re literally built on it. Exclusive use of IP is what generates the real money for celebrities big names. Yet in the process, the IP rights of others are often overlooked. So why is it household names are always caught out for IP infringement?

Keeping up with the Kardashians’ (alleged IP infringement…)

Take Kim Kardashian for example. Recently, she has had a lawsuit initiated against her for the ‘Lumee Selfie case’. The case is alleged to be a similar design to the Hooshmand Harooni design patented in 2013. At the same time, Kim’s “KKW” brand, has also been accused of infringing the established “KW beauty”. Both cases rumble on.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg!

The other Kardashian-Jenner sisters have also been in the news for similar reasons. Khloe has allegedly flouted copyright by reposting a photo without crediting the photographer… Kylie allegedly misappropriated images of artist Vlada Haggerty…. and Kylie and Kendall have used images of icons on her clothing without licensing.

All within the past few months!

The extent that the sisters themselves are directly responsible for these decisions is up for debate… At the same time, Forbes magazine places Kim at number 42 in the top 100 earning celebrities. She has an estimated net worth of £40 million.

How much of this value is predicated on licensing her name and image as IP? The lion’s share. For many celebrities, the cornerstone of their income is the ability to endorse and affiliate. The power of personal brands and IP (especially the Kardashians’) has never been more potent.

So, it’s quite ironic that celebs recognise the value of their brand… they can often fall short in respecting the value that others hold. IP infringement can often seem an occupational hazard for the fast moving entrepreneurs in Hollywood.


IP infringement is not a One-way Street…

But it’s not just the Kardashians who find themselves in the news… They’re actually representative of a wider phenomena. Celebrities can often seem to enjoy IP’s benefits… whilst also being accused of infringing others’.

Singer, Jeffree Starr’s lipstick packaging design has been accused of resembling Lunatick Cosmetics. Lunatick trademarked their design in 2014 (granted last year). Starr’s product was released last year, (though he claims to created the graphic design in 2013…)

Chelsea Clinton was sued for copyright infringement for her children’s book. The concept was allegedly sent to Penguin by another writer – who handed it off to Clinton.

Ed Sheeran is another example. Sheeran recently had to pay a 7-figure sum to settle the dispute about his song ‘Photograph’. It was alleged to be too similar to ex-X-Factor contestant Matt Cardle’s song. This was confirmed in court by a judge and musicologist.

The list goes on. And there seems to be a new one every week!

These kinds of headlines can damage the reputation of those involved. For Sheeran, such a claim has a negative impact to his reputation as a songwriter. This happens whether infringement was wilful on his part, or not.

Logically, it’s not be worth the risk to your well-crafted image. But it’s quite clear big names often do operate fast and loose – and benefit if not contest is made. Whether this is deliberate, or a symptom of being too big to effectively avoid it, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that this is a shame because when IP infringement impacts small companies they lose big. This is because losses for small companies and boutiques equate to a bigger proportional loss of profit. Whereas for bigger businesses, infringement is often a blow that they easily can stomach.

Thankfully, The Law Doesn’t Discriminate when it comes to IP Infringement

25% of UK small businesses reported in 2015 a struggle to protect IP. Legal costs to prosecute are often prohibitive if non-specialist advice is sought. So, seeing your hard work used by a big company or celebrities is worrying to say the least.

But, being small doesn’t mean you should have to capitulate to the big boys. The law doesn’t care how big or famous you are. The law is concerned with justice.

Virtuoso has proven this is the case, time and time again. We did it in matters where we have acted for the underdog and beaten multinational clients. In the process beating bigger firms… (who also take much bigger fees from their clients). We’ve also done it when we came 2nd in The Lawyer Awards 2017, besting a host of multinational opposition.

In these cases, we don’t win because we’re the biggest, we win because we’re right. We’re right more often than not simply – because we’re IP specialists. It’s all we do, and we’ve been doing it very well for a long time. The big firms (and companies) we face underestimate us. They underestimate you too.

The role of IP is becoming more important in the global economy. This is matching the growth in services as much as goods in the past.  Simply put. We don’t sell as many things anymore. We sell ideas.

So, if you’re being worried about big names trampling all over your name…. Choose specialists who know what they’re doing. Don’t go for someone that’s so big they’re blind to the small detail.

To speak to our award-winning team of IP infringement solicitors, please call:

0113 237 9900

“Seeing Double (Standards): Celebrities, TNCs and IP Infringement” was written by Dr. Martin Douglas Hendry and Amy Moriarty

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