The estate of Michael Jackson recently filed a complaint against GourmetGiftBaskets.com alleging that the company’s registration and use of the domain name KingofPop.com constitutes a false and misleading association with Michael Jackson under the Lanham Act due to his reputation of being the “King of Pop,” dilutes Jackson’s famous “King of Pop” mark, violates his right of publicity, and constitutes cybersquatting under Federal and California state law. The estate holds federal registrations for KING OF POP in connection with several goods and services and claims that the mark is widely recognized by the public such that it has become famous.
The domain name KingOfPop.com had been previously used for a Michael Jackson fan site, and the estate alleges that GourmetGiftBaskets.com knowingly and in bad faith purchased the domain name because of this association with Michael Jackson. The complaint further alleges that the popcorn company’s bad faith is established by the fact that “Pop” is not a common reference to popcorn and that the company may have considered whether “King of Pop” was identified with a particular individual. It also appears that the estate is simultaneously opposing GourmetGiftBaskets.com’s applications for KingOfPop.com at the USPTO, and prior to the filing of those applications, the estate had sent the company letters warning it that the estate believed GourmetGiftBaskets.com’s use of the domain name was infringing.
TIP: A person’s right to control the commercial use of their name (and likeness) is protected under both state right of publicity laws and, in some cases, the Lanham Act. Moreover, in many states, a person’s right to control the commercial use of his or her name can be enforced by the person’s estate following his or her death.