‘Celebrity’ is by no means a new concept and, for decades, stars have been concerned with protecting their image and status, usually through defamation and libel cases, or injunctions and secrecy orders. However, a new wave of celebrities have explored different options about protecting themselves and their business interests, as well as potentially seeking to exploit the reputation and goodwill attached to their names, catch-phrases and lyrics. Trade mark registries, particularly (and possibly unsurprisingly) in the US, have in recent years seen an influx of registrations for a number of interesting marks.
In her latest bid to boost her portfolio, Taylor Swift has applied to register SWIFTMAS, 1989 and AND I’LL WRITE YOUR NAME as trade marks in the US for a number of different goods and services. These are just the most recent trade mark filings by Taylor Swift; earlier this year she applied for THIS SICK BEAT, amongst other of her song lyrics.
Taylor Swift is not by any means the only celebrity to apply for trade mark registrations to protect or exploit their image and brand. Kris Jenner (of the Kardashian fame) filed a US trade mark application for #PROUDMAMA for advertising, marketing and promotion services, after already successfully obtaining a US trade mark registration for MOMAGER.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z have also applied to register the name of their daughter Blue Ivy Carter in the US and in Europe covering a wide range of goods and services. It is unknown as to whether this was a pre-emptive tactic to stop opportunistic third parties from using their daughter’s name for commercial gain, or to allow their daughter the freedom to use her name as a trade mark in the future. Either way, it enables Beyoncé and Jay-Z to retain control over how their image and brand is used.
The drawing power of a celebrity name is of great commercial value for both the individual and manufacturers either through increased sales or royalties received from licensing arrangements. Trade mark registrations will also allow individuals and companies to maintain control over what products or services they are associated with, especially where they may be of variable quality or nature, which could ultimately result in damage to their reputation and brand.
Obtaining registrations as early as possible and for carefully selected goods and/or services can prevent the costly and time consuming task of having to prove distinctiveness, a requirement for registered trade mark protection. One of the most successful applications of this method is associated with a then not-well-known football player who, in advance of his debut with West Ham FC at the age of 17, registered in September 1998 JOE COLE in respect of, amongst other things, razors and electrical shavers, clothing and footwear, and football coaching and football schools.
It is possible that the more famous the name, the more likely it will be seen as descriptive of the goods or services in question, especially for merchandise, and therefore less likely to be accepted onto the register. For instance, applications for “Elvis” and “Elvis Presley” were refused in the UK for toiletries as they did not indicate the origin of the goods and applying the marks would be purely descriptive.
Procuring early trade mark registrations also prevents unwanted third parties from “getting there first”. In the UK (unlike the US where proof of use is required), there is no law stating that only the individual in question can register their name and the options to oppose these applications are limited and difficult to prove.
In today’s technology driven climate, where we consume media through various channels, celebrities have the ability to connect with their fans instantly, thereby conveying their brand to millions of individuals across the globe. The blurring of the lines between brands and high profile celebrities is a common feature of today’s entertainment industry. Not only are more and more celebrities becoming ambassadors for big name brands, they themselves have lent their names to a wide variety of products and services and in doing so have successfully supplemented their income.
As a celebrity’s career progresses, they will be a prime position to take advantage of their registered rights through exploitation. Trade mark registrations will also allow individuals and acts to maintain control over what products or services they are associated with, especially where they may be of variable quality or nature, which could ultimately result in damage to their reputation and brand.
In the words of Jay-Z “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Trade mark registrations are lucrative assets, potentially providing a stream of revenue, as well as protection from unauthorized exploitation by third parties. Taylor Swift is one of the first musicians to attempt to trade mark lyrics, however, with the rise in celebrity branding, it is unlikely that she will be the last. Whether Taylor Swift’s trade mark applications will be successful or not, it cannot be disputed that she has successfully built up a global brand surrounding both her music and image.