Coachella Sues Urban Outfitters for Trademark Infringement

By: Maria Pigna*| Staff Writer 

https://pixabay.com/en/coachella-ferris-wheel-big-wheel-1083735/

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, commonly known as Coachella, is a three-day event known for its musical performances of top artists, delicious food, world-class art, and its celebrated commitment to sustainability. Aside from the global attention this event receives every year, it has given itself another reason to make headlines. Coachella filed a trademark lawsuit against Urban Outfitters in the U.S. Central District Court of California on March 14, 2017.

Coachella, promoted by Goldenvoice, claims that a subsidiary of Urban Outfitters, Free People, is offering at least four products that incorporate Coachella marks onto their products’ names. They also claim that the marks are being used to offer goods that are in direct competition with those offered by Coachella, its licensees, and/or its sponsors. The complaint states, on its first page, that the use of the Coachella name misleads consumers in a way that is “likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive consumers” that Urban Outfitters and Free People are sponsors. This also poses a problem of competition for companies like H&M, who already have clothing campaigns with Coachella.

The popular music festival is associated with a certain look in the fashion industry that is colloquially described as “bohemian” or “hipster.” That is why an item previously on the Free People website sold as the “Coachella Valley Tunic” is one of the items at issue, specifically mentioned on page eleven of the complaint. A term search on Free People’s website no longer yields that tunic or other items with word “Coachella” in its name, however, it instead shows results for common festival items like hair accessories, festival survival kits, and even a tent. This could be the reason why Coachella claims that Urban Outfitters is using the Coachella trademark in webpage titles, description tags, keyword tags, URLs for pages that have festival-themed goods, and going as far as purchasing “Coachella” keyword ads from Google to increase their chances of popping up during a Google search of the festival. A search for “Coachella clothing” on Google turns up a sponsored result for Free People, aiding the claim that Urban Outfitters is using keyword ads to drive traffic to its sites.

Coachella’s website discloses all of their copyright, trademark, and permitted use information in their terms of use. Under the “Copyright and Trademark Information” section, they state that “all content, copyrights and other intellectual property rights in the content available on our Digital Services, including without limitation design, text, graphics, interfaces, and the selection and arrangements thereof, are owned by Company with all rights reserved.” This suit should not come as a surprise to Urban Outfitters since Coachella claims, on pages seven, twelve, and sixteen of the complaint, to have sent them multiple demands in the past, including a cease-and-desist letter on April 14, 2016.

The suit ultimately cites “trademark infringement; false designation of origin and unfair competition; dilution; common law tortious interference of contractual relationships; violation of California trademark law and violation of California unfair competition and law.” Coachella is seeking damages for a § 1114(1) violation of the Lanham Act, trademark infringement and unfair competition, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees under § 1117.  They are also demanding that Urban Outfitters discontinue using the trademark, remove and recall the offending items, issue corrective advertising, and inform their consumers that they are not authorized sponsors or licensees of the “Coachella Marks.” The suit has favorable timing for Coachella since this year’s sold out festival is set to occur on April 14 – 23 in Indio, California, which means that fans will be shopping at the height of the spring season for their festival looks.

Bio:

Maria Pigna is a second year law student and a Journal Editor at Wake Forest University School of Law.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish, and a minor in Public Leadership from the University of Florida.  Upon graduation, she intends to pursue a career in the area of corporate and international law.