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Supreme Court sides unanimously with Jack Daniel’s in dog toy case

Jun 8


In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Daniel’s, the Tennessee whiskey brand, in a case involving a dog toy company that created a product shaped like a bottle of their alcohol. The high court determined that the toy did not fall under free speech protections and sent the case back to the lower courts for further examination.

The dispute began when VIP Products started selling a dog toy that closely resembled a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, naming it “Bad Spaniels, 43% poo by volume” instead of the original “40% alcohol by volume.”

While VIP Products claimed it was a joke, Jack Daniel’s did not find it amusing. The Jack Daniel’s lawyers argued that the toy used the brand’s iconic marks in a misleading manner and could confuse their customers.

Justice Elena Kagan authored the decision, which she described as narrow in scope. The justice stated that “the use of a mark does not count as noncommercial just because it parodies, or otherwise comments on, another’s products.”

“We hold only that it is not appropriate when the accused infringer has used a trademark to designate the source of its own goods – in other words, has used a trademark as a trademark,” Kagan wrote. “That kind of use falls within the heartland of trademark law, and does not receive special First Amendment protection.”

According to the court’s decision, had the use of the mark been deemed non-commercial, it would have fallen under the fair use copyright exclusion. It was ruled that this kind of use fell within the realm of trademark law and does not receive special First Amendment protection. As a result, the previous ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been vacated.

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