Making fun of fashion is not for the faint of heart. And now it could be outlawed in some parts of the world.
A Japanese Intellectual Property High Court ruled in favor of Louis Vuitton after an independent seller and retailer in Tokyo that carried “remake” LV products on its web site that seemingly ridiculed the luxury fashion house.
The items in question included sneakers made with what looked like real Louis Vuitton monogrammed leather and baseball caps with LV-patterned brims. Louis Vuitton filed a suit against the indie shop for unfair competition and trademark infringement.
The French fashion house argued that the LV monogram was “devised as a countermeasure against counterfeit goods” and said the knock-offs were confusing to customers who were looking for the real deal.
Even the name of the company — Junkmania — could have lasting negative effects on a luxury brand’s image. Louis Vuitton asked the courts to order the online shop to remove the products from its web site immediately.
But Junkmania shot back, saying the company is an obvious parody site. The cheap price, secondhand market and use of the word “remake” on the web site make it obvious to shoppers that the company is not affiliated with Louis Vuitton.
The company’s street fashion, “brings about a mismatch feeling and a sense of playfulness,” the court documents read.
In fact, the web site is full of amusing finds, like metal lockets with the Chanel logo, “Nike” fanny packs and baseball caps, and YSL pendants for less than $100. On the company’s Instagram page, nearly 32,000 people follow photos of Apple hoodies and other company parodies.
Even so, in a case that could have long-lasting effect on what it means to resell “custom-made” products — at least in Japan, the Japanese courts ruled in favor of the Paris-based company. The court found, that while Junkmania’s products may not confuse customers, it was still using a famous brand for a commercial purpose without authorization, which is a form of unfair competition.
Louis Vuitton was awarded 1.7 million Japanese Yen, or a little less than $15,000. The products have been removed from Junkmania’s site.
The small amount shows just how far Louis Vuitton will go to protect its trademark, said Marc Reiner, an IP lawyer at Hand Baldachin & Associates. Louis Vuitton would not respond to a request for comment.
Still, the courts did not rule in the trademark portion of the case, according to Masaki Mikami, the attorney handling the case, at Marks IP in Japan. But, Mikami said, that does not mean the company is not liable for trademark infringement.
Junkmania’s owner, who did not comment, argued in the court proceedings that nominal use of the Louis Vuitton pattern did not serve as a source indicator for the brand.
While trademark laws differ from territory to territory, there are generally accepted rules that govern the international fashion community.
Japan’s Exhaustion Doctrine, similar to the United States’ First Sale Doctrine, says consumers are allowed to do what they want with their own products. That means a shopper may sell a Louis Vuitton bag on eBay without permission. Same goes for artists or designers who alter products for resale — as long as they make it obvious that the new products are not a collaboration with the original company. Mikami said reselling genuine products is not prohibited in Japan.
But brand indicators, such as Louis Vuitton’s LV monogram, are also protected by Japanese trademark law, according to Mikami.
Iris Gunther, the International Trademark Association’s external relations manager for enforcement, said the question is whether one person’s creations violate another person’s rights.
“Your freedom of speech rights end where someone else’s private property rights begin, and that would be Louis Vuitton’s IP rights in this case,” Gunther said.