Louis Vuitton threatens law school over parody poster

Louis Vuitton is well-known for its abusive trademark enforcement, but its latest legal adventure is unbelievable. The luxury goods company threatened the University of Pennsylvania Law School after a student group parodied the LV monogram on a poster for a trademark law symposium.

"This egregious action is not only a serious willful infringement and knowingly dilutes the LV Trademarks, but also may mislead others into thinking this type of unlawful activity is somehow 'legal' or constitutes 'fair use' because the Penn Intellectual Property Group is sponsoring a seminar on fashion law and 'must be experts'," wrote LV lawyer Michael Pantalony in a cease and desist letter. "I would have thought the Penn Intellectual Property Group, and its faculty advisors, would understand the basics of intellectual property law."

The poster, titled "Fashion Law", takes the distinctive LV monogram and replaces its iconography with copyright and trademark symbols. The symposium takes place March 20 in Philadelphia.

In a reply to Pantalony, the University's general counsel denied that the poster infringed LV's trademarks, describing the laws that establish the public right to parody—especially for noncommercial and educational purposes. He also invited Pantalony to attend the symposium so that he may learn more about intellectual property.

Don't Upset the Intellectual Property Fashion Police [Freedom to Tinker]


  1. You’d think LV would know better than to antagonize a school full of budding young lawyers…

      1. I think it would’ve been a very good idea for U Penn to do so… LV’s actions were easy enough to anticipate, and amount to incremental advertising.

        The only real unpredictable variable would be the *level* of mendacity in their posturing.

  2. This egregious action is not only a serious willful infringement and knowingly dilutes the LV Trademarks, but also may mislead others into thinking this type of unlawful activity is somehow ‘legal’ or constitutes ‘fair use’ because parody is protected free speech, and we’re up shit creek if people actually know that.

    FTFY, lawyer-troll.

    1. I really liked the 

      “While every day Louis Vuitton knowingly faces the stark reality of battling and interdicting the proliferation of infringements of the LV Trademarks”

      Part from the whining letter of complaint. C’mon, fashion lawyer, I’m pretty sure that you didn’t lose a buddy in ‘nam defending handbag trademarks…

      1. Dude… the reality… is like… stark for these guys… 
        They face it… knowingly… like, every day.

        1. It makes you wonder if the LV C&D flack was a philosophy major back in undergrad, getting all fired up about existentialism and whatnot, before he sold out and went to law school because the word ‘nausea’ started to mean ‘Ramen, again…’ rather than ‘Sartre’.

          Now his old passions find only the tiniest of outlets, in odd, grammatically disjointed fragments about knowingly facing stark reality in the daily struggle to uphold the meaning(and trademark status) of arbitrary symbols in an absurd and pirate-riddled world.

  3. I think it’s pretty amusing that Louis Vuitton’s trademark patterns were originally designed to be difficult to reproduce as a form of practical copy protection in an age before modern IP law.  And now they are copyright trolls.

    1. In my (admittedly laymans) understanding, a fair amount of the French culture industry has that somewhat touchy relationship with contemporary copyright law… Sort of like the US situation with the mythical ‘small farmer’ who crops up primarily when congress is discussing how much public money to provide to ADM this year.

      France has a number of starkly radical flavors of IP (moral rights, Geographically Protected Designations) and spats with Our Google overlords and similar(the recent google maps case, some skirmishing over books, a forever doomed and forever revived attempt to build a search engine to save culture from hegemonic McSearch) that are designed to cater to the protection of the Artist and Culture; but often end up as blunt instruments in quite contemporary fights between the various soulless multinationals that either formed when the corpses of bankrupt small enterprises were revived or when small enterprises mutated to survive…

  4. That letter was perhaps the best “go screw yourself” I have ever read. Citing a parody case that Luis Vuitton was involved in! Inviting them to the conference! Amazing. 

    1. Not to mention that the letter doubles as a template for anyone wishing to reply to any similar ridiculous legal bs.

  5. Here is a company immune to boycott – anyone who would actually pay money for their crap is a douche anyway.

    I once sat next on a plane next to a guy who bought a 2000 LV handbag for his psycho korean ex and mother of his child. She immediately started screaming and took scissors to it and chopped it up. He showed me on the plane the chopped up handbag, depreciated in value exactly $2000. WTF, you could something pretty fun with that $2000.

    These fashion companies represent some of the worst old school European aristocratic houses in the world. Giving them even a penny is making the world a more shitty place.

    1. Amusingly, most presently extant fashion companies want to appear to represent the worst of old school European aristocratic houses…

      Most of the ones that genuinely did died out decades ago(because old school European aristocratic houses did not exactly emphasize cutthroat supply-chain efficiency…) and the remainder are shambling zombie-brands grafted onto multinational consumer goods conglomerates that are about as redolent of Rarified Old Europe as the Altria Group or Yum! Brands… For appearances sake, most of the pricier swag is still assembled just-enough-in-europe that it can avoid the dreaded ‘made in china’ label(depending on regulatory requirements, a substantial portion of it may well have been); but the organizational structure is just another multinational holding company.

    2. Not to mention their bags are actually HIDEOUS. Take away the brand hype and you’ve got some of the ugliest bags known to mankind.

  6. Knowingly diluting Louis Vuitton’s trademarks? LV themselves are doing a pretty good job of that by selling over-priced shitty bags to fucking morons. 

    Anyone with a brain has long known that Louis Vuitton is for people with more money than style.. in 1986 the Japanese band Shonen Knife released the track Baggs with the following lyrics (translated from Japanese):

    Every dog and every cat and every person has louis vuitton
    Rich people and poor people, genuine, spurious louis vuitton
    A kindergarden pupil and her mother have louis vuitton
    A college student has her tennis racket in her big louis vuitton

    A yuppie woman bought two bags when she went overseas
    An old woman was given by her son louis vuitton

    Shoulder bag, Boston bag, suitcase, wallet and drawstring bag

    An old man (who doesn’t know what louis vuitton is) other bag’s logo:
    It isn’t LV, it’s LB! That’s too funny.

    If people in the 80’s knew it was terrible then what value is left in your ridiculous brand?

    1. True.

      It’s always easy to spot the new money. They’re the people wearing anything with an LV, Gucci, D&G or Chanel label.

      LV bags are a really expensive way of looking cheap. 

      1. A lot of these companies have two or more distinct ranges of goods, one plastered all over with big logos for those who couldn’t tell quality if it bit them so have to see the name and another where the logos are either very discreet or sometimes completely absent.  I have a pair of very nice Prada (not on your list, I know) shoes but apart from the high quality you can’t tell unless you look at the label inside.  I also have a pair of D & G skate shoes, mine have very discreet logos, they are not in the same class as the Prada shoes as far as workmanship goes, although much better than most of what can be found in fashion shops, but much more comfortable for everyday use, and again, very discreet logos.  Not all fashion house goods are cheaply made or look cheap but I’ll agree that most of the stuff you can easily spot probably is.

  7. Louis Vuitton then went on to file a suit against the nation of Italy, claiming that the Ancient Roman number for fifty-five, LV, was a trademark infringement.  The city of Las Vegas is currently in talks for a settlement for criminal use of the abbreviation LV.  

  8. Oh man, they may have a point about the confusion, cuz I just went to the U Penn law school web site, took off my glasses, and squinted at the patterns, and my logical conclusion was “Louis Vuitton is having a fashion show there!”

  9. I’ve been following a case on a somewhat related issue in France, where they have “moral rights” as well as a really strict copyright law.  The heirs of Le Corbusier sued Getty Images for stock photos on the Getty website that included Le Corbusier furniture in them, even where just a corner of a Le Corbusier chair might have been visible in the photo.  Le Corbusier won, and the case is currently on appeal to France’s equivalent of the Supreme Court.  Anyway, Getty is now seeking to push the liability back onto the photographers who provided them with the images.  You can see some reporting on it at the following link, but it hasn’t gotten much press here in the US.  http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120221/04512617829/do-you-need-permission-to-take-photo-with-chair-it-you-might-france.shtml

  10. I would venture that the law school designed this poster precisely because  they knew LV has a bad tendency of getting all frivolous with the law (see the “Little Louis” debacle etc). Very well played, its not often graphic design merges with performance art.
    It is a bit surprising, but very telling, that LV actually took the bait.

  11. I live in Philadelphia.  There is a rumor that UPenn has every law firm in the city on retainer, doing one odd job for them or another.  That way no one can sue them, it would be a conflict of interest.  They are a behemoth, one of the largest employers in the city, if not the state.  I doubt they are the slightest bit concerned about old louie

  12. Yes! This is great. Though I guess UPenn kind of *has* to win this, right? Otherwise, I doubt many folks are going to attend a Fashion Law symposium being thrown by folks who can’t protect the actual symposium from copyright law infringement…It’d be like, “Come to our Anual Spelling Symposium!”

  13. Why is the response from Penn State on “Penn Medicine” letterhead, instead of “Penn Law?”

  14. While a judge may not figure it out – the use of “TM” in the image, in the context of an Intellectual Property Symposium oriented toward law, OBVIOUSLY is a work of satire about the IP nature of designs.  geez.  lawyers.

  15. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you…that a prestigious house of…uh…”fashion” …such as Louis Vuitton has resorted to such a bourgeois tactic. Harumph!

    Well, I’ll show them my opinion in no uncertain terms: I will cease purchasing their fine merchandise immediately….


  16. Isn’t this the legal equivalent of putting your head into a lions mouth…and then kicking him in the balls?

  17. This is America.  We must defend a company’s rights to charge 10 times what a product is worth.

  18. Parody being fair use, hasn’t LV’s IP lawyer just made the case for fair use even more compelling? Wouldn’t it be easy for Penn to claim that the use was fair because it is clearly commenting on LV’s trolling re: their pattern? Doesn’t LV’s actions support that argument, and therefore an argument for fair use?

  19. Trademarks can be voided if they’re defended with inadequate vigor, and one of the conventional means of avoiding this is to demonstrate excessive vigor, sending out baseless C&D letters demanding that people cease activity that courts would unquestionably allow, issuing baseless threats, not because they actually want those people to stop doing what they’re doing, but because they want a record of having vigorously defended their trademarks.  Actually acting on those threats by filing suit would cost real money, though, so trademark holders seldom go that far.  The C&D letter is all bluff, and the reply letter is a formal notification that the bluff is being called, which is probably what LV’s lawyers were expecting.

  20. Big points to Penn for slapping LV’s letter back by (i) citing a well-known trademark “parody” case that LV lost (LV v. Haute Diggety Dog), and (ii) inviting the guy to the symposium so that he might learn a little something.

    Some of the posts above refer to fair use, but to be fair, LV is not talking about copyright violations here.  Trademark law has a far more limited “fair use” exception than copyright law, and parody is not a factor. 

    LV does have serious IP protection issues and as such, they should hire an attorney who knows something about the subject (Hey! I’m a graduate of PennLaw and a practicing IP lawyer – call me!).

  21. I suppose it’s too much to hope that he’s lean, slipper’d, and shank-shrunk, trying to be sudden and quick in quarrel but limited to childish treble-piping and with a weak grasp of modern instances.

  22.  The fair use exception would almost certainly apply as the use was non-commercial and educational.  However, 
    I dont see how the flyer can, in any way, be characterized as a “parody” of Louis-Vitton.     

    1.  You don’t see why putting TM(trade mark) in place of LV in a pattern for a flyer about fashion law , thereby mocking a company that is infamous for somewhat over the top infringement lawsuits,  is parody? Seems clear enough to me.

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