Titleist Calls Out Website Over Rules Violation for Product Line
On July 13, 2017, Titleist’s parent company, Acushnet Co., filed a complaint in Massachusetts federal court against imadebogey.com’s owner, Benjamin Russell, alleging his products infringe Titleist’s classic marks and offend its customers. The complaint cites unfair competition, trademark infringement and dilution. Imadebogey.com sells golf hats and other accessories with the words “Titties” and “Titlost” instead of “Titleist” in the same distinctive stylized script as the 84-year-old logo, including shirts and beer koozies. These are just some of their golf-related products sold on the website that poke fun at the refined nature of golf. Other products include hats with the phrase “Make Golf Great Again” and shirts with Adam Sandler’s blue-collar professional golfer character Happy Gilmore.
The Titleist logo was created 84 years ago, and is one of the most iconic marks that exist in golf. The brand claims the website is ruining the quality reputation it has built over the past 80-plus years, and that if permitted to continue would “damage and injure . . . Acushnet’s reputation for exceedingly high-quality products, and the public’s interest in being free from confusion and deception.”
Despite Titleist’s insistence that imadebogey.com’s products violate their rights under trademark law, such lawsuits to stop parody products are rarely successful. Parodies are commonly viewed as speech and even part of political discourse, and the law only protects against deception. For trademark infringement, Titleist must show that consumers would be confused by the two logos, and that “people would think Titleist is making hats,” according to trademark attorney Donna Tobin. In cases such as these, companies often choose to settle out of court to quietly disappear offending products, as these strong legal protections for parodies make trial risky.
Titleist’s lawsuit against imadebogey.com is only the most recent in a long line of lawsuits to stop parody designers. Parody logos and phrases became trendy in 2013, when streetwear brands poking fun at big luxury labels rose to fashion prominence. For instance, Louis Vuitton filed a suit against My Other Bag for its canvas tote bags, which bear cartoonized versions of famous “it” bags, such as Louis Vuitton’s Speedy. My Other Bag won at the trial court and appellate levels, but the parties are still fighting over how much Louis Vuitton will have to compensate their adversary for in terms of attorney’s fees. Louis Vuitton also recently filed to potentially take its case before the Supreme Court because the Paris-based design house’s counsel strongly believes the New York federal courts got the standard wrong for determining parody.