Going All Gaga – Pop Music Trademark Cases in 2011

The 2011 Grammys and Video Music Awards have come and gone, but I think Lady Gaga is still eligible for an award: Trademark Enforcer of the Year. The pop singer, known for her provocative lyrics and bizarre wardrobe, has put a lot of time and effort into developing her name and image, and she apparently plans to reap full benefits from them. And she’s gonna use IP to do it, particularly trademark enforcement—Lady Gaga has registered the “Lady Gaga” mark for clothes (including boxer shorts), web videos, even headphones, and she has pending applications for everything from false eyelashes to mini-LED lights. So, without further ado, I’m presenting the top three Gaga trademark lawsuits (or potential lawsuits) of 2011:

Breast Milk Ice Cream?

This one is the weirdest of the bunch. Back in March, Lady Gaga sent a cease-and-desist letter to a London ice cream shop, The Icecreamists, because it started selling a breast-milk flavored ice cream called “Baby Gaga.” Gaga cried trademark infringement and described the dessert as “nausea-inducing.” (Honey, so was your meat dress, but I didn’t have any IP rights to protect me from that.) I can’t say Gaga’s totally in the wrong here as to either the potential infringement or the flavor, but considering “gaga” is widely accepted baby-talk shorthand, the Icecreamists probably weren’t trying to free ride on her notoriety. In fact, the dessert shop likely got unimagined publicity from the threatened lawsuit. The Icecreamists eventually changed the ice cream name to “Baby Goo Goo,” and Gaga moved on to (slightly) less infantile issues.

Maybe She’s Just Not A "Kid Person"

I lied—Gaga stayed with the kids’ stuff. In October, Lady Gaga got an injunction against a children’s website, Moshi Monsters, barring videos and songs that include Moshi’s Lady Goo Goo character, which clearly spoofs Gaga. Lady Goo Goo’s song is tunefully reminiscent of “Bad Romance,” but it was the character’s appearance and lyrics that rankled Lady Gaga: the cartoon is a blonde, black-shades-wearing baby who sings lyrics like “my stroller’s pretty and my diapers are silk/ I throw my toys out if I don’t get my milk.” While the standards might be different in the UK (Moshi Monsters’ parent company is British), in the U.S., I’m pretty sure this situation would be covered by the trademark parody exception. But who knows? Maybe Gaga’s fashion frolics have cornered the cartoon market too.

Let Your Fans Have Their Fun

Gaga’s least successful effort was fight with a fan. Lady Gaga went after a fansite, ladygaga.org, complaining that the site was registered in bad faith and violated her trademarks. The site owner said it was just an unofficial web shrine to the pop idol and she (the owner) didn’t make any money off it. Shouldn’t Gaga welcome the extra attention? A panel of arbitrators let the site owner keep her fansite. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all. (Lady Gaga expressed her displeasure a couple of days later by suing Excite Worldwide, a company who actually was trying to use Gaga’s name and fame to sell their cosmetics.)

Is Gaga’s IP enforcement “Poker Face” justified, or does she have a “Bad Romance” with trademark law? I’ll say this, at least Lady Gaga learned something from her 1980s/90s beta-self, Madonna (besides the melody to “Born This Way”). Madonna currently has an uphill legal battle involving her trademark rights for “Material Girl” because she didn’t secure them soon enough. Gaga caught on early: use ‘em (and enforce ‘em) or lose ‘em.

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