ENTREPRENEURS: WHEN CAN YOU BE FUNNY AND MAKE MONEY?
NORTH FACE faces off with SOUTH BUTT. When is a label in libel?
When young entrepreneur Jimmy Winkelmann decided to create a label that spoofed North Face, he may not have realized that the words South Butt would get his clothing label into trouble.
When working in the realm of comedy and satire, producers always have a gaggle of lawyers making sure that we won’t get sued. “Be sure that when you make fun of a celebrity, you don’t claim that they did anything that is actually illegal when you craft your joke.” say the lawyers. Ok. In other words “Celebrity-So-&-So looks like a crack whore” is fine. “Celebrity-So-&-So is a crack whore” … not so fine. “Celebrity-So-&-So sold crack to children.” Not good. “Celebrity-so-and-so might as well have sold crack to children.” Good.
So now that we have that sorted out, what about brand confusion and trademark violation? As far as I understand it, that’s what North Face is claiming might happen with South Butt. The public will be confused.
ARE YOU CONFUSED? YOU DECIDE!
My tip to budding young entrepreneurs is (especially those who wish to be funny) … when you satirize something big, ask a lawyer first. Here’s my personal example. Many years ago I decided to create a small production company that did comedy bits for a handful of networks. My last name is Wolf. I created, researched and bought 20th Century Wolf Productions. I had my logo designed and it was a PERFECT spoof of the 20th Century Fox logo. It had swooping perspective, kleig lights, block graphics … oh it was magnificent and it made everyone I knew, laugh out loud! I faxed it to my lawyer. She left me a message that was roughly this: “No. No. NO. NO. NO. No way. No F&^KING WAY. If there is any confusion between your company and FOX, they can come after you.” Oh my. I wept, stomped around, sighed a lot and generally felt that my company’s entire survival rested on that visual spoof and was in Chapter 11 before it had even started. But a calmer heart prevailed and I did what my lawyer told me to do. My new logo looks nothing like Fox’s logo and after all these years, I have mugs and hats etc. that have my ‘safe’ logo on it and they rock! (Not to mention that my best friend from High School designed it and every time I see it I think of Michele!) My company was a sweet little success and even when I pitched to Fox and left behind a mug with my logo on it, they laughed, told me I was clever and hired me with no muss or fuss. Here’s the comparison:
ARE YOU CONFUSED? YOU DECIDE!
Is it as funny? NOT EVEN. Am I better off? VERY. So my tip to you budding funny entrepreneurs? Be safe. Ask a lawyer. Have faith that with NO confusion and less humor, your product or service will be as warmly received and successful as it would have been with your first choice! We wish both North Face and South Butt a compassionate arbitration and outcome!