Brand damage part of Kanye West trademark COINYE complaint

Musician Kanye West certainly is worried about his brand.

Copyright law protects the original works of artists and authors, including the music of the controversial rapper. Creative people like West, who is as much of a product as the works he creates, also are concerned about trademark infringement.

West has filed an intellectual property lawsuit against the creators and digital exchangers of the crypto-currency COINYE, like Bitcoin but with some obvious Kanye West-inspired flourishes. COINYE’s logo shows West as a cartoon character, which currency supporters say is a parody.

The doctrine of fair use is applicable in copyright and trademark disputes. Fair use defines the limits to which copyrights and trademarks are protected. West’s lawsuit claims the people who make and promote the virtual money are profiting from the singer’s notoriety and confusing the public.

The complaint, naming more than 100 defendants, says COINYE users and digital money hoarders believe West is behind the crypto-currency exchanged on three websites. The currency is used by patrons of Coinyecasino.com. Cease-and-desist letters apparently have had no effect on the defendants who received them.

West’s financial expectations from the lawsuit filing are unknown, but he claims the the casino website, COINYE exchangers and dozens of others are causing Kanye West brand damage “with each day that passes.”

It remains to be seen whether the parody argument is legitimate. Criticism, comments and parody enjoy protection under the fair use doctrine, since it’s difficult to accomplish any of them without taking some elements from an original work. However, that’s a copyright debate rather than a trademark dispute.

If you have a headache, it’s not a good idea to try to decipher the nuances contained in U.S. copyright or trademark laws. Calling them “complicated” is an understatement. The judicial interpretations of what’s protected, what isn’t protected, exceptions to the rules and limitations to exceptions are why people hire intellectual property attorneys.

Source: New York Daily News, “Kanye West sues COINYE, themed digital currency, over trademark infringement” Nancy Dillon and Daniel Beekman, Jan. 14, 2014