Louis Vuitton: There’s Nothing Like The Real Thing
Louis Vuitton (LV) filed suit in federal court in New York against Warner Bros. The complaint stated that the studio used counterfeit bags in place of Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogrammed luggage in the movie The Hangover Part II. The scene at the center of the dispute depicted Zach Galifianakis’s character, Alan, as he toted a Louis Vuitton emblazoned bag and told his friend, “Careful, that is a Louis Vuitton.” Of course, Alan mispronounced the name as “Lewis Vuitton,” which launched an investigation by staff at LV to figure out the source of the bags.
What did Louis Vuitton discover? Apparently after pressing “pause,” enlarging the image, and enhancing the quality, Louis Vuitton concluded that the bags were indeed phony. These fake LV bags were allegedly made by a company named Diophy, which Louis Vuitton is currently suing in an attempt to thwart the selling of knock-off items in the U.S. Naturally, one would conclude that Louis Vuitton would sue Warner Bros. for purchasing counterfeit goods. But no, LV decided to get unique.
Instead, the French fashion house alleged (1) that consumers will be confused into believing that the Diophy bag is really a genuine Louis Vuitton bag; and (2) that LV approved the use of the Diophy bag in the film. In essence, LV sued Warner Bros. for trademark dilution, false designation of origin, and unfair competition. LV believed that consumers would mistake the faux LV for the “real thing” thereby harming the brand. Louis Vuitton sought profits from the film and destruction of all copies of The Hangover Part II.
In pleading Lanham Act claims, there is a heightened standard regarding the use of marks in artistic works. The Court concluded that Louis Vuitton’s allegations of confusion are not plausible under the Lanham Act, nor are they “particularly compelling.” The court reasoned that it would be difficult for an average consumer and even a “keen observer” to notice that the Louis Vuitton bags in the airport scene are knock-offs. The bag “appears in the background of the scene” and “occupies only a minute fraction [of] the frame for three segments lasting approximately three seconds each.”
Additionally, Louis Vuitton assumed that viewers of The Hangover Part II would take Alan’s statements and opinions about the LV bags seriously, so seriously that viewers would conclude Warner Bros. shared the same ideals. That claim is hardly conceivable, and it does not cross the line into the realm of plausibility. Louis Vuitton also objected to the statements that Alan’s character made because LV viewed it as an affirmative misrepresentation. As a result, one would have to speculate that Alan’s character was aware that the bag was fake. Otherwise, he would just be misinformed about who created the bag, and therefore innocent. For the above reasons, “the Court conclude[d] that the likelihood of confusion is at best minimal, and when balanced against the First Amendment concerns implicated here, it is not nearly significant enough to be considered “particularly compelling.” As of July 18, 2012, Louis Vuitton has expressed disappointment in the decision and has appealed the judge’s dismissal of the case.