The biggest celebrity intellectual property disputes of all time
If you’re looking to set up a business called Blue Ivy, you’ll likely hit a roadblock: Beyonce and Jay Z have registered the name as a trademark. The music power couple copyrighted their first daughter’s name, as well as those of their twins Sir and Rumi Carter, meaning no one but them can benefit from these unique monikers.
The Carters are not the only celebrities who have trademarked famous names. Reality star Kylie Jenner famously went up against pop icon Kylie Minogue in 2017, when she attempted to trademark the name Kylie. Meanwhile, football superstar Lionel Messi won the legal battle to trademark his own name in early 2018, despite a challenge from the Spanish cycling brand, Massi.
It’s not just trademarking names that is landing celebrities in hot water. A-listers around the world are fighting against intellectual property claims all the time in disputes that range from fully-justified to fully-bizarre.
Kim Kardashian West vs SnapLight
In the summer of 2017, Kim Kardashian West’s company, Kimsaprincess Inc. was slapped with a $100 million lawsuit over her endorsement of a light-up phone case. The selfie queen’s signature case, created in collaboration with LuMee, acts like a portable ring light, illuminating the edge of a phone in order to help create the flawless selfie. However, Hooshmand Harooni hit out with claims that Kimsaprincess Inc. stole his idea.
According to court papers, Harooni claimed to have patented an “integrated lighting accessory and case for a mobile phone device”, but profits to his SnapLight company suffered following Kim’s LuMee endorsement. Harooni also sued Urban Outfitters at the same time, for stocking the LuMee cases and “benefit[ing] financially through increased sales of the LuMee selfie cases”.
Harooni reportedly patented the light-up case in April 2013, and argued that LuMee failed to attain the proper patent before partnering with Kim Kardashian for their phone case. Registering a patent is often a lengthy process, and applicants are usually required to include a written description of their inventions to show others how they works. According to experts Global Voices, applicants can either register their patent in a specific country, or opt for an international, European, or unitary patent—which covers all participating Member States of the EU. Once the application has been submitted, it can take over 20 months to receive approval, on average. Though LuMee allegedly had not gone through this process, the firm responded by saying it had “developed substantial intellectual property rights surrounding its product line”.
As for Harooni and Kardashian, they settled the claim out of court, according to reports by TMZ. The publication also reported that the suit cannot be refiled, which means one less headache for all those involved. It is unclear whether, or how much, money was exchanged between the parties.
Pharrell Williams vs will.i.am
The two musicians fell out in 2013 after the Black Eyed Peas star issued a cease and desist. Will.i.am apparently told Pharrell that he owned the rights to the ‘I Am’ segment of Pharrell’s YouTube channel, I Am Other. According to will.i.am, the phrase “I Am”, which makes up part of his name, should be considered his intellectual property. He also mentioned that this wasn’t the first time Pharrell was involved in a lawsuit, citing the infamous Blurred Lines legal battle with Marvin Gaye’s estate, and the fact he co-founded a record label called Star Trak Entertainment, which is not completely different to the Star Trek franchise.
Pharrell counteracted the lawsuit by citing the iconic Dr. Seuss character Sam I Am, and a massive list of 146 artists who use “I Am” in their monikers, including I Am Virgin, I Am Ghost, and I Am Band. Will.i.am, whose real name is William Adams, and Pharrell Williams eventually settled out of court. Pharrell admitted he felt the whole case was “ridiculous”.
Disney vs Deadmau5
In one of the more bizarre cases, EDM superstar Deadmau5, real name Joel Zimmerman, went up against Disney over the “trademark” mouse head helmet he wears while performing. The DJ sought to register the shape of his mask with a US patent, in order to use with various merchandise, including “electronic equipment, entertainment services, BMX bikes”. This didn’t sit well with Disney, who filed an opposition arguing that the black ears and face and the white eyes and mouth would be confusing for consumers, as they are “nearly identical” to the Mickey Mouse character, and Disney’s mouse logo. Naturally, Zimmerman wasn’t happy with this, and tweeted to his almost 4 million followers: “Lawyer up Mickey.”
After a legal dispute that lasted nearly a year, Zimmerman eventually came to an agreement with Disney over the registration of the “mau5head”. However, the DJ also ended his collaborations with Disney; he had previously allowed the company to use his song “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” in a remix video featuring Mickey, was approached to rework Fantasia for live concert performances, and was rumoured to be in talks to remix the animated series Star Wars Rebels.
Paris Hilton vs Hallmark
Paris Hilton, the socialite-turned-DJ who paved the way for the Kardashians, managed to trademark her catchphrase, “That’s hot”. But the reality star knocked heads with Hallmark when they released a card that featured her catchphrase, and a cartoon woman with Hilton’s face edited onto it. The card, captioned “Paris’s First Day as a Waitress”, showed Paris as a waitress, serving a plate of hot food to a cafe customer.
Hilton accused Hallmark of using her image, name, and registered trademark for commercial purposes without her consent, and filed for $100,000 in damages. Hallmark hit back with a free-speech defence, which was eventually dismissed by the court, and the company eventually reached an out of court settlement with Hilton and her lawyers.
Rihanna vs Topshop
After a long relationship with Topshop, which included shopping in stores and wearing the brand’s clothes, Rihanna filed a lawsuit against Sir Philip Green’s fashion house in 2013 for using her image without approval. The contested Topshop garment was a vest which featured a photograph of the singer on the front, but it was never approved by Rihanna or her team. The Grammy-winning artist claimed Topshop had duped her fans into thinking the vest was official merchandise, and that it may have damaged her reputation.
Topshop, however, maintained that they did nothing wrong, and pointed out that the lawsuit had not stopped Rihanna’s entourage contacting the retailer to ask for products for her to wear. They also claimed that they are entitled to honestly sell the garment, having bought the necessary copyright licence to the image (which was taken by a freelance photographer during a video shoot). However, this was dismissed by the courts, and Rihanna managed to successfully sue Topshop’s parent company Arcadia for a cool £3.3 million.