Madonna has entered into a variety of licensing and branding deals recently including with her daughter, Lourdes. One of those deals is for an exclusive line with Macy’s to be called “Material Girl” after the nickname she has been known by since her hit song of the same name in the 1980s.
L.A. Triumph has filed a lawsuit to stop use of the Material Girl name by Madonna and Macy’s, on the basis that it has been using a line also called “Material Girl” since 1997.
This situation raises a variety of interesting questions concerning right of publicity and trademark. It can hardly be debated that “Material Girl” is a well-known, long-standing, and unequivocal reference to Madonna. Madonna has stated that she in fact does not like that nickname, as detailed in the article located at the link below. However, there is little question that commercial use of a nickname can be just as much a right of publicity violation as use of the person’s actual name. In my Right of Publicity classes, I use the idea of something that is “unequivocally identifiable.” In this instance, I believe Madonna is unequivocally identifiable by the nickname “Material Girl,” whether she likes it or not.
However, there is the possibility of an entity acquiring trademark interests in a name that it has been using for a long time. L.A. Triumph has reportedly been using the name “Material Girl” for over a decade. One question I have is whether L.A. Triumph’s line makes any other association to Madonna, whether overt or tacit. Perhaps that will be investigated as the lawsuit evolves.
Here is a link to the story:
A former model has sued the band Vampire Weekend alleging unauthorized use of a Polaroid photo of her on the cover of their release “Contra.” The model, Ann Kirsten Kennis, is seeking $2 million in damages for use of a Polaroid picture taken of her in 1983. Kennis’s lawyer said the picture was a private family photo and not a modeling picture intended for commercial use. Her lawyer says that that Kennis’ mother sometimes sold collections of the photographs she took to shops and charity bazaars.
The picture made its way to photographer Tod Brody, who is also named in the suit. The lawsuit alleges that Brody informed Vampire Weekend that he took the picture, and further alleges that Brody forged Kennis’ signature on a release form. Vampire Weekend apparently paid $5,000 for the picture. In a statement, Vampire Weekend said “As is standard practice, Vampire Weekend and XL Recordings licensed the rights to use the photo on the cover of Contra pursuant to a license agreement that contains representations and warranties authorizing this use of the photo. Now that a lawsuit has been filed, we look forward to having the matter resolved in court.”
If you’ve been to Times Square, you’ve probably seen them. On one side is the Naked Cowboy, Robert Burck, known for wearing only white underwear, cowboy hat and boots while singing and playing guitar throughout the year, in Times Square. On the other side is the Naked Cowgirl, known for wearing a bikini, cowboy hat, and cowboy boots while singing and playing guitar throughout the year, in Times Square.
Robert Burck, the Naked Cowboy claims that the Naked Cowgirl, Sandra Brodsky, is infringing the look and act he started over a decade ago. The Naked Cowboy has trademark registrations and has licensed his name and related intellectual property rights, including his right of publicity, in a variety of contexts as this site has previously reported. He also has attempted to set up a franchise system whereby others seeking to perform a similar act can do so under agreement from Burck. Brodsky has refused to sign such an agreement, claiming that the payments to Burck would make it economically unattractive to continue the act.
Burck also filed suit against Mars, Inc. in 2008, concerning a billboard campaign in Times Square depicting the M&M characters in a style similar to the Naked Cowboy. That case settled under confidential arrangements.
Here is a link to the complaint filed by Burck in late July, 2010: