Fox has filed a lawsuit to protect its rights to the Empire name and property. It sounds like a plot straight out of Empire.
The show's phenomenal ratings—not to mention a soundtrack that debuted at No. 1 on the charts—has won over America and successfully startled white execs. Up next: lawsuits. The San Francisco-based company Empire Distribution, Inc. initially sent a series of demands to Fox for use of its name. The network followed up with its own trademark lawsuit on Monday.
The Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of Fox's suit, which claims among other things that Empire Distribution "never applied for federal registration of a trademark in Empire." The lawsuit reads:
On February 16, 2015—three days after Empire increased viewership for a then-record fifth straight week and claimed a total viewership of 11.9 million—defendant sent Fox a claim letter, authored by outside counsel, accusing Fox of using defendant's alleged marks without authorization.
...Defendant claimed that use of the word "Empire" somehow confused defendant's customers, artists, and business partners as to whether the series and its music are somehow affiliated with defendant.
Empire Distribution's previous clientele looks to have included major artists like Kendrick Lamar and Sean Paul at some point. According to Fox:
Defendant's theory is that "Empire's portrayal of a label run by a homophobic drug dealer prone to murdering his friends threatens to tarnish [defendant's] brand and harm [its] goodwill."
Fox adds that Empire Distribution hit them with a few options to settle the dispute, which included:
(1) Fox could pay $5 million and include artists that defendant represents as "regular guest stars" on the fictional television series; (2) Fox could pay defendant $8 million; or (3) Fox could stop using the word "Empire."
Fox's attorney Marvin Putnam tries to disregard the merits of Empire Distribution in the lawsuit, pointing to its measly Google search results (which sounds like something a reality TV star would do in a confessional). According to the lawsuit:
On March 23, 2015, a Google search for "empire record label" displayed defendant's website on the seventh page and a job posting on the sixth page. None of the other hits on the first six pages were related to defendant. And the entries on the first six pages are predominantly for other record labels with "empire" in their name, such as Empire Records, Royal Empire Records, American Empire Records, and Empire State Recordings.
Fox further presents the argument that Empire is a commonly used name:
Empire is a common word in trademarks, including in the entertainment field. For example, just in the State of California, there are companies doing business as Empire Recordings LLC; Dark Empire Recordings LLC; Empire Entertainment, Inc.; Empire Entertainment Productions, Inc.; Empire Media Center; and Empire Publishing, Inc. There is even a film called Empire Records. Outside the State of California, as well as outside the entertainment field, there are myriad more Empire-related marks.
As well, Clover Hope Empire, for which I just filed a trademark.
The Hollywood Reporter notes the potential risk of a "preemptive lawsuit," citing the "Blurred Lines" verdict, but the site also writes that, "Fox might wish to avoid another Glee, which ran into trademark trouble in the U.K. with a judge there basically allowing the owner of a comedy club to assert dominion."
Image via Fox
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.