You’d probably recognize the Run-DMC trademark brand whether you were a fan of their music or not. A well-known group from the 1980’s, Run-DMC were the second rap group to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, superseded only by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
The Run-DMC brand has become iconic in popular culture and has spawned many copycats and parodies. The band’s 1986 track “My Adidas” marks a key moment in tying hip hop music to sneaker culture, and is considered one of the first major product endorsements in hip hop. But in the decades since, it seems other brands have tried to capitalize on the band’s iconic status to make a sale, without compensating them for the licensing rights. Recently, Amazon, Walmart, Jet.com, Vision World, Infinity Fashion and SW Global have been targeted in a $50 million lawsuit over trademark infringements for selling T-shirts, glasses, hats and other products that infringe on the Run-DMC trademark.
Hopping on trends before considering the legal ramifications can cost you big time. Here are some things to keep in mind before jumping on the latest (potentially copyrighted) fad:
Dangers of Trend Hopping
The trend to use Run-DMC’s lyrics to sell products started with a legal licensing agreement—but that doesn’t give other brands the green light to hop on the bandwagon, and any copycat afterwards could still be subject to a costly corporate lawsuit. It’s a case of monkey-see, monkey-do: companies big and small assume that because others are doing it, they can too.
Darryl McDaniels, the owner of the Run-DMC brand, claims this trend wrongfully confuses consumers into believing that the brand has endorsed their products, and allows them to make sales based off the goodwill associated with the brand name. The trend also denies Run-DMC the opportunity to sell licensing agreements to brands who may want sole rights to certain trademarks.
Being on top of the current trends is never worth violating trademark law, as the costly Run-DMC lawsuit proves.
Trademark issues are more common in pop culture than you may think. In 2016, Massachusetts-based D2 Holdings sued the “House of Cards” TV franchise for use of their trademark on the phrase. D2 Holdings has only licensed the phrase to one company, Granary Way Media, who produces a radio show by the name. MRC II Distribution Company, owner of the “House of Cards” TV show, repeatedly tried and failed to obtain the trademark for their own use. Unable to do so, they went ahead and used it, opening themselves up to the potential loss of any digital or physical material bearing the phrase.
We don’t blame companies for struggling to navigate these legal waters, considering how murky they can be. If you agree, a domain like GettingSued.Sucks can help you to join the conversation.
By jumping on trendy trademark appropriations, you are doing yourself, and the original trademark holder, a disservice. When a customer asks about, mentions or searches for your mark/logo/brand, you want to be the highest ranking result. The more competition in the brand pool, the less valuable it becomes to either party. You want to build your marketing around something intrinsically linked to your company or product, not something that is misleadingly attached to other household names. Worse yet, you can even be sued for damages if you participate in the dilution of an existing trademark—so tread carefully when naming that new film/podcast/website you’ve got planned (and be sure to snag catchy domain names early in the game!)
This may be the most self-explanatory point: nobody likes a thief. If something doesn’t belong to you, chances are you shouldn’t take it. Even if you aren’t ever sued or challenged, it’s a pretty sucky thing to do to another creator. Taking something that isn’t yours is against the law, period.
Confused about what you can or can’t use and how to protect your own trademark from theft? The International Trademark Association (INTA) has a great public resources page.
Big companies like Walmart and Amazon already get a bad rap for squashing smaller, independently-owned competitors. It just adds salt to the wound when larger corporations steal trademark ideas without compensating their owner in any way. Creators should feel free to experiment, design and build without fearing ongoing legal battles over the theft of their ideas. If you agree that IdeaTheft.Sucks, stand up for the musicians, artists and entrepreneurs you support, and call out the brands that are wrongfully stealing their creative output.
Have some thoughts about trend hopping or trademark law? Speak your mind with a .SUCKS domain.
Photos: Shutterstock / PORTRAIT IMAGES ASIA BY NONWARIT, Shutterstock / Antonina Potapenko, Shutterstock / cunaplus