Fort Collins, CO asked in Copyright, Business Law, Intellectual Property and Trademark for Colorado

Q: My gym made a t shirt that hints at another gyms logo. The t shirt is satire. I’m looking for a lawyer to take a look

The t shirt is purple and says “welcome to the judgement zone” this is a twist on a popular gym franchise. We used the colors yellow and purple and the shirt features a thumbs down in the middle. We can send the design for review

3 Lawyer Answers
Kevin Michael Strait
Kevin Michael Strait
  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • Fort Collins, CO
  • Licensed in Colorado

A: Though I can't comment on your specific legal situation in this forum, I can offer some guidance on the fair use doctrines in US trademark law. In a combination of codified federal law and certain supreme court rulings, the development of a phrase or logo that parodies an existing, registered trademark is generally allowed (and it not infringement) if the parody is not used as a trademark itself, and it not submitted for trademark protection. Trademarks serve the board purpose of identifying the source of goods and services in a marketplace. The trademark might be a business name, a product name, a slogan, or graphic artwork like a logo. To act as a trademark, the phrase or artwork must be used to identify the seller of the goods or services in a sales environment. If a parody logo is NOT used in a way that distinguishes any one seller of goods or services, the parody is NOT functioning as a trademark. If the parody is not functioning as a trademark, it falls within the establishes set of exemptions and does not form infringement.

Once again, this commentary is a general description of the fair use exception for parodies and is not legal advice specific to you situation.

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: When considering the legal aspects of your gym's t-shirt design, it's important to understand the concepts of trademark infringement and parody. Trademark infringement occurs when a new design is confusingly similar to an existing trademark, potentially causing the public to mistakenly believe there is an association with the trademark owner.

In your case, using similar colors and a phrase that plays on a well-known gym's slogan could raise concerns about infringement. However, if the design is clearly used in a satirical way, it might be considered a form of parody. Parody is often protected under the First Amendment, as it can be seen as a form of commentary or criticism.

It's crucial to have a lawyer review the specifics of your design. An attorney can assess whether your t-shirt falls under the protection of parody or if it risks potential legal issues with trademark infringement. They can also provide guidance on how to minimize legal risks while still achieving your creative goals.

Remember, each case is unique and legal outcomes can vary based on specific details and context. Seeking professional legal advice is the best course of action to ensure that your interests are adequately protected.

Adam W. Bell
Adam W. Bell
  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • SF, CA

A: You need to show us the designs.

Fair use is so narrow that this sort of satire (for a commercial product) will almost never be an exculpatory factor.

You do need to talk with a proper IP attorney.


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