By Adonne Washington
On October 17, 2018 a lawsuit was filed in the District Court in the Southern District of New York against celebrity and business mogul Rihanna Fenty. Along with Rihanna, the suit also names Puma and Fenty Corp., Rihanna’s brand which she trademarked in 2014. Who could have filed such a suit against one of the world’s largest and well-loved celebrities? Freedom United. Never heard of them? Unfortunately, Rihanna wishes she could say the same thing. Freedom United is a clothing brand who’s IC is similar to that of Fenty, selling men’s and women’s clothing, hats, beanies, scarves, bags, jewelry, art, music, styling products, skin care products, private label beverages, water, energy drinks, and has been developing sandals and flip flops. All of these products, with the exception of the beverages and drinks, are things that Rihanna and Puma have worked together on and independently. The issue here is Freedom United’s registered trademark “FU” and Rihanna and Puma’s Collection which features clothing and shoes bearing the “F.U.” logo. Rihanna and Puma are presented with claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition.
Freedom United has had a registered trademark since 2006 and recently renewed the registration in 2014 upon showing continuous and substantial use of the mark. This lawsuit is claiming that Rihanna and Puma’s physical products are confusingly similar in appearance to Freedom United’s and were only marketed and sold after Rihanna and Puma had actual knowledge of Freedom United’s products and in particular the FU Marks. The owner of Freedom United had been in contact with members of Rihanna’s team, giving them information about the brand and providing them with merchandise which featured the FU mark. Freedom United has also been strategic enough to include Instagram direct messages and text messages between members of Rihanna’s team and inner circle, some of which include photos of these individuals in the FU brand clothing. Freedom United has also hosted and sponsored events which celebrities have attended and Rihanna herself has been invited to; all of this evidence showing that she had actual knowledge of the Freedom United brand and the trademarked logo that they use on their clothing and shoes. Freedom United is seeking injunctive and monetary relief as a result of this lawsuit.
This lawsuit is not the first of its kind; sadly there are many lawsuits between celebrities and smaller business or brands. The lawsuits go both ways, however it is quite often that one will find a celebrity who has stolen some IP from an Instagram business or from a designer who is simply an online individual with limited exposure. For example, Jenner found herself in hot water when she was accused of stealing a design/pattern from PluggedNYC after Jenner’s team had been in touch with PluggedNYC about purchasing some of the products. This systematic issue of celebrities creating brands and taking their “creative” ideas from other brands and designers. One has to believe that celebrities are often times well aware of how much influence they have considering their elevated public status, it makes you wonder if they have the thought of “I don’t care” when they rip-off people knowingly. It will be interesting to see how Rihanna and Puma get out of this lawsuit without paying up and taking down all the “F.U.” merchandise.